HC Deb 11 February 1982 vol 17 cc1105-6
13. Mr. Robert C. Brown

asked the Chancellor of the Exchquer what is the cost to public funds of each unemployed person, taking into account loss of tax and national insurance revenue.

Mr. Brittan

It is not possible to give a single figure. Estimates would depend on a range of assumptions, for example, about the characteristics of the unemployed people, the earnings they would have had in work, and whether they were in the private or the public sector.

Mr. Brown

Will the Minister come clean and admit that the cost of unemployment is now approaching £15 billion per year? Does he agree that that figure exceeds the public sector borrowing requirement and is double the amount of North Sea oil revenue? Has he studied the prediction of the Manpower Services Commission that £10.5 billion in output will be lost as a result of unemployment? Does he agree that those are damnable statistics and that he and his right hon. and learned Friend should resign?

Mr. Brittan

The answer to the last question is "No". [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I thought that it was important to get that question out of the way first. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I fully share his concern about unemployment levels, but an aggregate figure of the kind that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is not in itself a meaningful total, as it implies comparison with an economy with zero unemployment, which does not seem a very realistic approach to the problem.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the cost of unemployment is very high indeed? Will he address his remarks to an earlier question about unemployment in the construction industry, which is running at between 40 and 50 per cent? Will the Government consider introducing inflation-proof or index-linked construction bonds to attract private buyers into construction projects, which would get people back to work, achieve a great reduction in public borrowing and also reduce unemployment, which must be to the benefit of everybody in this country?

Mr. Brittan

I certainly agree that the construction industry has been through, and is still going through, a very difficult time, but I draw attention to the figures, for instance, for increases in private house building starts and orders generally, which show a significant improvement in the position. I would wish to consider my hon. Friend's proposition.

Mr. Straw

Is the Chief Secretary aware that his expressions of concern about the number and condition of the unemployed can only be treated with nauseous contempt by the Opposition, when the Government have cut taxation for the rich, put 3 million people on the dole and reduced the living standards of the poorest people out of work? Will he acknowledge and accept that, as a result of the 2 per cent. and 5 per cent. cuts and the withdrawal of earnings-related benefit, an unemployed married couple now receive £13 per week less than they would have received if the Labour Government's regime had been maintained?

Mr. Brittan

I am interested to learn of the hon. Gentleman's nauseous concern. There are those on the Government Benches who are as concerned as Opposition Members about the problem and who find equally nauseating the fraudulent prospectus of extravagant expenditure, likely to lead to massive inflation and higher unemployment, that is put forward by the Opposition.