HC Deb 06 December 1983 vol 50 cc147-8
5. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what was the total number of people unemployed, and, of those, how many have been unemployed for more than 12 months to the latest available date.

Mr. Tom King

The number of unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom was 3,084,416, and the number unemployed for more than 52 weeks was 1,142,898. Both of those are United Kingdom figures at the latest available date.

Mr. Dormand

Is not the number of long-term unemployed the biggest indictment of the Government's disastrous economic policies? If the Minister regards the piffling reduction in unemployment during the past two months as a success, will he estimate how long it will take the Government to reduce unemployment to the level at which it stood when they took office? What is he doing to meet the CBI's objections to the Government's policies?

Mr. King

The number of unemployed is an indictment of the serious lack of competitiveness in British industry which has existed for far too long, and to which the Labour party made a major contribution by ignoring it and leaving to the teeth of a recession the worst problem and threat to employment in Britain. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the encouraging signs. He may know that I recently visited the Northern region and checked on the latest available figures for Newcastle, which show that this year placings into employment are 30 per cent. higher than they were last year. [Interruption]—I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman reacts like that, because I should have thought he would welcome such an improvement.

Sir Dudley Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the problem of unemployment is endemic throughout Europe? Is he further aware that the range of measures adopted by the Government to fight the serious problem are as good as, if not better than, those adopted by other countries?

Mr. King

I assumed—I apologise if I have failed the House—that Opposition Members at last understood the fact which my hon. Friend mentioned, which is that our problem is common throughout the Western world and in modern industrialised society. The Government have taken several measures, the most important results of which are the reduction in inflation and the control of public expenditure, to ensure that at last we have a real prospect of sustaining growth.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Will the Minister accept that, pro rata, a much greater proportion of the scandalous long-term unemployment figures that he has spelt out is to be seen in the Northern region? When is he discussing regional policy in the Cabinet, will he bear that in mind?

Mr. King

I am aware of the serious problem faced by the Northern region. I am also aware, as is any other hon. Member, and certainly the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown), of some of the long-tern and intractable industrial problems of the Northern region and the failure to resolve them, which has contributed significantly to the present problem of unemployment in that region.

Mrs. Rumbold

Is my hon. Friend aware of the many people in my constituency who are interested in knowing the number of employed and also in knowing whether that number is increasing?

Mr. King

I am pleased to say that in the last quarter there was an increase in the number of people at work, the first increase in a quarter for a long time. That is in contrast to the situation in other countries, which are unfortunately experiencing quite the opposite phenomenon.

Mr. John Smith

Is the Secretary of State aware that when over 1 million people are classed as long-term unemployed, the question that arises is how we do social justice to them. Is not the time overdue when the long-term unemployed should get paid the long-term rate of social security benefit, such as the Government's Social Security Advisory Committee recommended? Is this not a simple moral question, and not a political and economic decision?

Mr. King

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is not a matter for me. I have seen the early-day motion, and I hear what he says.

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