HC Deb 02 June 1981 vol 5 c763
4. Mr. Stoddart

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest total number of those taking advantage of the job release scheme.

Mr. Waddington

At 28 April 1981, 58,251 people in Great Britain were in receipt of allowances under the job release scheme.

Mr. Stoddart

Is not that a ludicrously low number? If the scheme were altered to bring the qualifying age for men down to 60 and for women to 55, would it not cost only £165 million in 1982–83? Would it not be better if the Secretary of State, instead of wringing his hands to the people's march for jobs, like some latter-day Chamberlain, got down to doing something real about unemployment, and amended the job release scheme in the way suggested?

Mr. Waddington

There has been a massive increase in the youth opportunities programme this year, which has made it impossible to extend job release in 1981–82. I do not deny that this is a good scheme. One would like it to be extended. However, there would be a substantial net cost, and I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's figures. The existing scheme costs £130 million gross and £75 million net. The hon. Gentleman is referring to 1981–82, but not to the first full year. In the year 1982–83, the gross cost would be £600 million and the net cost £300 million. It is a question of resources.

Mr. John Grant


Mr. Stoddart

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it right that the Minister should alter figures that were given to me in a written answer on Friday 8 May——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We usually leave points of order until after Question Time. Ministers, like other hon. Members, always seem to find the appropriate figures.

Mr. Grant

Will not Ministers, particularly the Secretary of State before he is reshuffled, have another look at this scheme with a view—at the very least—to restoring the cuts that have been made in it, bearing in mind the fact that, despite the figures given, it is extremely cost-effective and could do much to relieve unemployment? Would that not be better than waiting for the figure of 3 million unemployed to rise, as the Secretary of State has now confirmed is likely?

Mr. Waddington

First, I was in error. In fairness to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), I must point out that the first full year would be 1983–84. My figures are correct for that, but not for the year 1982–83. The figures then would be £600 million and £300 million. So the point I made is still a good one. [Laughter] I can only repeat that the Government agree that the scheme is a good one. There would be many advantages in extending it. However, it is another example of having to choose priorities. In view of the availability of resources it is not possible to grant the extension asked for by the hon. Member in this year.