HC Deb 08 November 1983 vol 48 cc139-41
12. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what was the number of unemployed at the last count.

13. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures.

Mr. Tom King

In October the total number of unemployed was 3,093,998 — a fall of 73,441 from September — and the seasonally adjusted total — excluding school leavers — fell by 10,000 from September, the second fall in three months. While it is always unwise to put too much emphasis on one month's figures, I note rising vacancies, less short-time working and more overtime, which all support the Government's view of a steady improvement in the economy.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that the quarter of a million young people already on the youth training scheme are really a quarter of a million young unemployed on a training course? Is it true that if those people, who are receiving £25 a week, which is basically unemployment pay, were added to the drastic figures that the Minister has just given us, we would see no fall in unemployment? There has been a massive increase, which is getting worse.

Mr. King

That is the most disgraceful comment about the youth training scheme that I have heard in this House. I thought that at one time the hon. Gentleman had some connection with education and that he would therefore understand the importance of young people having some training and fitting them better for the challenges of a modern, technological society. The hon. Gentleman's remarks will not be shared — indeed they will be condemned—by the vast majority of trade unions which are willingly co-operating in this scheme.

Mr. Parry

Although I welcome the small fall in the Merseyside figure, may I ask whether the Minister is aware of the thousands of declared redundancies that are in the pipeline for Merseyside, which will push the figure considerably higher? What are the right hon. Gentleman's plans for positively reducing unemployment on Mersey-side and in our other regions? Do the Government have a policy?

Mr. King

It is difficult for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that the Government have no policy. Against the background of the improving economic position I have been able to announce a fall in unemployment. It is interesting to note the outrage with which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) greeted the announcement that 73,500 more people are now at work than in the previous month. It is by the reduction of inflation and by ensuring that British industry remains competitive and gets its share of world markets that we have the best hope of improving the employment position of this country. That is what the Government are determined to do.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the take-up of the community programme? If not, does he have any further steps to take in that regard?

Mr. King

I am encouraged by the take-up of the programme. It is going extremely well and I hope that we shall shortly be able to make an announcement about the future of it.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the Minister accept that the current unemployment figures are distorted and possibly underestimated by the fact that local areas are still working off the 1979 employment census? In the light of a parliamentary answer given to my predecessor to the effect that the local area results for the 1981 employment census would be produced this year, can the Minister say when he intends to publish those results.

Mr. King

Not without notice, but I will look into that. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to make the point that, by whatever measurement it is taken, unemployment is too high, I hope that every hon. Member will agree with him. It is the Government's determination to get that figure down by strengthening the economy and ensuring that there are again real jobs in the economy. I am proud that my first statement on unemployment to the House has enabled me to announce such a substantial reduction in the figures.

Mr. Needham

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the overall size of the British labour market is increasing and that the percentage of those employed in that market now compares favourably with many of our EC competitors?

Mr. King

The evidence is that there were in the last quarter, for the first time in any quarter for four years, more people at work than in the previous quarter. It is significant to note a further increase in vacancies; there is now some evidence that there are about half a million vacancies to take into account, and that is a steadily rising figure.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister agree, no matter how passionate his concern may be, that we must expect that a majority, and in some areas an enormous majority, of the young people now on youth training schemes will become unemployed in less than 12 months? While the YTS has bought the Government a little time, what do they propose to do about 17-year olds in less than 12 months?

Mr. King

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not keep up the criticism of the YTS. It ha:3 done a lot more than buy time. It has already provided for 250,000 youngsters a chance of training that the vast majority of them would never have had. I remind him of the words of a former Labour Prime Minister, that higher inflation followed by higher unemployment had teen the history of the last 20 years. We have been determined to get inflation down, and now we see some prospects for more jobs.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the logic of the case put by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is that all young people undergoing training are really unemployed, that might extend to all at universities and elsewhere? Does it also mean that every time the Government introduce a measure to train young people it will be seen by Labour Members as not helping the unemployed?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. I am glad to note that yet again the hon. Member for Hillsborough holds a view which, fortunately, the vast majority of sensible people in Britain do not hold.

Mr. John Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most disturbing features of recent unemployment statistics and projections is that more than 1 million people in Britain look as though they are likely to be unemployed for a very long time indeed? In that circumstance, will the Government now act on the recommendation of their social security advisory committee and give supplementary benefit to the long-term unemployed? Is he also aware that many of these people are in very poor circumstances and have large families and that the payment would involve as much as £10 per week? Does he realise that it is not now a matter of a political or economic decision, but a simple matter of morality so as to do justice for the long-term unemployed?

Mr. King

That question is not primarily for me but for the Secretary of State for Social Services. I note what the right hon. Gentleman says and of course we are concerned about the position of the long-term unemployed. We now have more than 600,000 people covered by special employment measures, along with the youth training scheme. That is some evidence of our determination to help with these problems.