HC Deb 06 December 1983 vol 50 cc143-4
2. Mr. Ralph Howell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is his latest estimate of the percentage of the unemployed who are actively seeking employment.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Tom King)

The labour force survey 1981 showed that about 83 per cent. of those registered as unemployed were actively seeking work. The results of the 1983 survey will be available during the second quarter of 1984.

Mr. Howell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great many of those who are unemployed simply cannot afford to work because of the "Why work?" problem and the poverty trap? Will my right hon. Friend make an urgent study of this problem, as people with modest families are sometimes £12 a week worse off when working than when they are not?

Mr. King

I am aware of my hon. Friend's long-term interest in this problem. He will recognise the difficulty of striking a fair balance, because, as hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise, in many parts of the country many people are desperately anxious to work but cannot get jobs, and nobody wishes to see people in that situation being deprived of a reasonable level of benefit. To strike the balance is difficult, but I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Alton

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the city of Liverpool more than 91,000 people are registered as unemployed and that just over 2,000 jobs are available? In one employment office, 16,000 people are registered as unemployed and only 200 jobs are available. The United Biscuits works in the area made a further 2,000 people redundant last week. What are the chances of those people finding fresh employment?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the past two months are the first two consecutive months since 1979 in which we have seen a fall in the headline total and in the seasonally adjusted level of unemployment, and an increase in the level of vacancies over the previous quarter. The improvement is small, but I recognise, as the hon. Gentleman does, some of the special problems of Liverpool. I must however say, speaking frankly, that Liverpool and some of its people have not always been their own best friends in trying to attract industry and employment to that city. I am aware of the serious problems facing Liverpool. The Government are anxious to see an improvement in the economy and the chance of real jobs for so many people in that city.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the only solution to the problem of providing incentives to re-enter work lies in a tax credit or basic income guarantee scheme that would wind up the present national insurance scheme and integrate it completely with income tax? Will he undertake to study such a scheme?

Mr. King

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's latter sentence, because I know him far too well to try, in one sentence, to respond to his carefully thought out ideas and strategems. I take note of his request.

Mr. John Evans

Quite apart from the fact that many hundreds of thousands of people are desperately anxious to find work but cannot obtain it, will the Minister address his mind to what the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) described as the "Why work?" syndrome. Does he accept that if the Government implement their policy of reducing housing benefits many hundreds of thousands of workers on low pay will be affected even more by the "Why work?" syndrome?

Mr. King

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that does not arise on this question.

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