HC Deb 15 March 1983 vol 39 cc137-8

Unemployment, however, remains intractably high, even although it has been rising more slowly than in 1980 or 1981. In many countries it has recently been rising faster than here. Over the past year, for example, it went up by 1ֵ6 percentage points in the United States, by 2ֵ3 percentage points in Germany, and by nearly 4 percentage points in the Netherlands, as against only 1ֵ4 percentage points here.

Because unemployment throughout the Western world is likely to remain high for some time, we have established a wide range of programmes, designed to help particularly those without jobs who are bearing the sharpest pains of the long recession. These special employment and training measures will next year bring direct help to almost 750,000 people. We now propose to extend this help in four further ways.

First, some 90,000 men between the ages of 60 and 65 now have to register at an unemployment benefit office if they wish to secure contribution credits to protect their pension rights when they reach 65. From April, they will no longer have to do this. Even if those concerned subsequently take up part-time or low-paid work on earnings which fall below the lower earnings limit for contributions, their pension entitlement will be fully safeguarded.

Second, there are some 42,000 men over 60 who are registered as unemployed and on supplementary benefit but who have to wait a year, or until they reach 65, before they qualify for the higher long-term rate of benefit. From 1 June they will qualify for the higher rate as soon as they come on to supplementary benefit. For this purpose they will in effect be treated as if they had already reached retirement age.

Third, the job release scheme. As the House knows, this scheme allows men over 62 and women over 59 who so choose to retire early, and so to make room for employing someone else who wants a job. I can now announce a new scheme for part-time job release. It will apply to the same categories of older people who are willing to give up at least half their standard working week, so that someone else who is without a job can be taken on for the remaining half. The allowances will be paid at half the full-time rate. The scheme will take effect from 1 October and should provide part-time job opportunities for up to 40,000 more people who are at present unemployed.

Fourth, enterprise allowances. These encourage unemployed people to set up in business by paying £40 a week for their first year to offset their loss of unemployment benefit. Pilot schemes were set up in five local areas in early 1982. The response has been very encouraging and there is already evidence that many of the 2,000 or so new businesses created under the scheme are generating extra jobs. I can now announce that from 1 August to the end of March 1984 enterprise allowances will be available throughout the country, within an overall cash limit of £25 million in 1983–84. Individual allowances will run on for a full year, so that the scheme will cost a further £29 million in the next financial year. The net public expenditure cost is about two thirds of this gross cost. It should help some 25,000 unemployed peole to set up in business. We shall be monitoring the scheme closely, and I hope it will show a continuing benefit to those concerned and to the whole economy.

The gross cost of these four measures is estimated at £55 million in 1983–84 and £55 million in 1984–85. In 1983–84 we shall be spending over £2 billion in all on the full rang of special employment and training measures.

There is one other matter which has, I know, been a cause of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. As the House will recall, the November 1980 uprating of unemployment benefit was abated by 5 per cent. We said then that we would review the position once the benefit was brought into tax. That happened in. July last year. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services said when the House last considered the issue, the Government accepted in principle the case for restoration of the abatement. It is right now to redeem that pledge. In the uprating that takes place in November this year, the abatement of unemployment benefit will be restored in full.

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