HC Deb 06 February 1984 vol 53 cc738-44

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Boscawen.]

1.21 am
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of the community programme. On 19 December 1983, having drawn fourteenth place in the ballot on the Consolidated Fund Bill, I spoke in a debate on charities and mentioned the cuts in the community programme.

The history and background of the change from community enterprise programme to community programme is well known to those of us who have been, and still are, involved in the functioning and mangement of such schemes. I have been the chairman of a scheme named CATO — community and training in Ogwr. Together with a management board of volunteers, and as a registered charity, we embarked on the sole task of establishing jobs within the area—an area that had been ravaged by the first months of a new Tory Government. I need do no more than tell the Minister that Ogwr falls in the catchment area of Port Talbot, where the British Steel Corporation's demanning in 1970–80 meant the loss of 12,000 jobs and an incalculable spin-off as supporting industries shed labour on a substantial scale. Virtually overnight, unemployment shot up from 3.5 per cent. to 10 per cent. and then to 13 per cent. It is now 17 per cent. and in some areas of my constituency, where pits such as Caerau and Coegnant in Maesteg have closed, it stands at 25 to 30 per cent. There is no need to wonder why some of us grab the only straw on offer—that of establishing jobs within the community programme and all the other schemes.

There are few schemes that can match the staff of CATO and its devotion to the purpose of finding useful, productive community projects. There are numerous organisations, from chapels and churches, boys' clubs and welfare halls, that would testify to those achievements. The executive officer, Mr. David Evans, who has worked hard and long, will also testify to the staff's devotion, and he has always had the full co-operation of the officers of the Manpower Services Commission in Pontypridd and Sheffield.

Why was CATO's application for 342 places refused? Why, subsequently, was the 1984 scheme reduced by a further 64 places from the present 264 to 200? Where did those 64 places go? To the Ogwr area, that blow was equivalent to the closing of a factory, and it was announced at the same time as the Wyndham Western colliery in Nantymoel received the MacGregor hatchet. That was one of my first reasons for tabling early-day motion 331 on cuts in the community programme. The early-day motion was supported by 55 hon. Members. There are also amendments signed by 24 hon. Members. Considerable interest has been shown in the early-day motion and the subject of cuts in the community programme.

I know that for the 10 or 15 minutes after I resume my seat we shall hear the same excuses and statistics as we have received in parliamentary answers—that 130,000 jobs will be filled in 1984 and that a further £10 million and £15 million will ensure that they are available; and that funding will be made available so that they can continue for a further two years, and so on. We have heard all that before. I have enough answers from the Secretary of State for Employment to keep the House up all night. The Minister and I have to suffer the lot of staying up most of the night to debate this subject.

I should like a response from the Minister telling me about some positive action to be taken to create jobs. I shall, no doubt, receive statistics and a repetition of what we already know. I shall give some statistics on unemployment that should be recorded.

The unemployment unit, in a report prepared by Adrian Sinfield, states that the real total of unemployed is over 4 million, one third more than official statistics reveal. Mr. Sinfield claims that 356,000 people were removed from the lists from October 1982 because they did not or could not claim benefit. He says: The extent of misery and hardship caused by unemployment and the Government's failure to remedy the situation are being disguised by statistical manipulation.

When the Government took office, there was an average of 5 per cent. unemployment. It has now rocketed to 16 per cent. One in eight are on the dole. In London it was only 3.4 per cent. Now it is 10 per cent., the highest figure since records began some 30 years ago. Even with the manipulated and doctored figures to which I have referred, there are 400,000 people unemployed in London. We read of 12,500 people trying for 60 vacancies at Birmingham's new £60 million airport terminal, and of the 500 women seeking 50 part-time jobs in the market town of Sudbury when the jobs are only for three weeks at £50 a week.

The CBI claims that only 7,000 jobs a month will be lost in the coming quarter compared with 11,000 a year ago and 50,000 a couple of years ago. It does not mean that the patient is getting better; he is sinking more slowly. We hear every week of the deaths of patients due to the lack of funds to employ nurses. We hear this from the Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester to the Heath hospital in Cardiff, and yet thousands of doctors and nurses are on the dole.

Some of the reasons for the unemployment are to be found in the decline in the United Kingdom's trade in manufactured goods, which created in 1983 a deficit of over £5 billion, the first such deficit in 200 years. That is the result of this Government's economic policies. But they are only part of the reason for the massive unemployment the like of which this country has not seen for 200 years.

I have no wish to refer only to my area or my community programme scheme. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the cutbacks in their areas. Early-day motion 377 refers to yet another vast area that has received cuts. If, as the Minister will probably try to prove, there have not been any cutbacks, will he tell me where 64 places in CATO have landed up? Why have we not reached the target in Wales? They must have been allocated outside Wales. Will the Minister say why 130,000 places were not reached in 1983? Whose fault was it? Was it that of the Manpower Services Commission for being enthusiastic, or that of the organisers of the scheme for working flat out to provide the jobs that the Government's economic policies have taken away by the thousands? Was it the fault of the Treasury for underestimating the cost, or that of the Cabinet Ministers for not respecting their proper responsibilities at the time? Perhaps they were paying attention to matters of a more personal nature, or concentrating on trade union bashing instead of job creation. Let us have the facts.

For example, 134 more jobs could be available for my constituents if the scheme submitted had been accepted. But it is dreadful to lose 64 jobs from the number that we had in 1983 and then to hear the Minister boasting about the scheme as if it was a lifeline for those out of work for over and above 52 weeks. Last week, the January unemployment figures published by the Government—the ones that are manipulated and doctored—stated that there had been a 120,000 increase in the number of unemployed in one month. Does not the Minister realise or understand the significance of those figures? Despite all the effort, expense, administration and parliamentary work of creating 130,000 jobs through the Minister's community programme, overnight, in one month, we find, when the unemployment figures are announced, that they have been lost.

What a desperate situation the Government are in. Banana skins abound and no one knows who will be next to take a skid. Will it be the Foreign Secretary, or could it be the Minister, or the Tory party chairman? I noticed the Minister's eyes light up just then. Perhaps he was thinking of the promotion for loyal and trusty servants. However, the Minister referred to Dickens' great work when he likened one hon. Member to Oliver Twist—"Please Sir, I want some more." The Minister said: That is the constant theme of those who stand on the sidelines."—[Official Report, 10 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 441.]

I suggest that the Minister should continue his reading of that great work. He will find that Oliver was one of the first trainees on a predecessor of the youth training scheme. He will recall that the child, desperate with hunger, reckless with misery, advanced from the table where he had one porringer of gruel to the master basin and, spoon in hand, said: 'Please sir, I want some more. There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance. For more," said Mr. Limbkins. "Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more after he had eaten a supper allotted by the dietary?" "He did, sir," replied Bumble.… Oliver was ordered into instant confinement; and a bill was next morning posted on the outside of the gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who could take Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish. That is an extract from chapter 2 of "Oliver Twist".

I have no intention of seeing people return to those Victorian values. Where does the Minister stand on the sidelines? What positive action is he demanding to improve the lot of the present-day Olivers? Has the Minister read the report published in the November bulletin of the unemployment unit which says that men out of work for more than a year are 18 times more likely to commit suicide than men with jobs? It states that there is grave cause for alarm. It also says that already 35 per cent. of unemployed males have been out of work for more than a year. It predicts that the figure will climb to 40 per cent. in the next two years.

Mr. Stephen Platt of the medical research council for the study of psychiatry at the Royal Edinburgh hospital calls for urgent Government action to reduce unemployment. Is the Minister aware that one in three of the unemployed have been without work for more than a year? That is well over one million people.

Did the Minister read about the young man from Liverpool who killed himself because he could not get a job? His story was reported in a Daily Mirror front page article which said that 23-year-old Gary Keeley left his mother a note asking her to forgive him for his selfish action, telling her that he had lost his fight to live, with his pride eroded for the past two years. What sort of society is this that places young people in such agony, misery and degradation that pride and self-determination are denied them? The Prime Minister's son can fail his accountancy examination and because his name is Mark Thatcher he can clinch a deal in Oman — with his mother around—for £3 million. What is the future for young men when one million people have been out of work for one year, some for two years, some for three or even four years? What future for them when jobs worth £60 a week are cut from schemes within the community programme? It is a national disgrace. It is a bleak world for those living in the misery of a Tory Britain.

The Policy Studies Institute states that even skilled workers cannot get unskilled jobs. About 30 per cent. of families have another member who is jobless, 56 per cent. of people live in below-standard housing and 85 per cent. depend on supplementary benefit to maintain the minimum decencies of life.

Government Members should try living on £26.80 on the dole—one of them has just found out what it is like. Then they might stop pretending that the unemployed do not want to find a job and they might start thinking positively about how to provide jobs.

I have a message for the Minister. People out of work need a message of hope. They want the positive creation of jobs — real jobs — to restore their dignity. We in Wales have suffered for more than a century. We are asking for basic rights within a democracy. We want the right to work for a reasonable wage, for a bowl of soup —and for another if we are hungry.

The Minister's responsibility is to ensure more jobs and more funding for his community programme if the demand is there. We want more job creation schemes. We have the skilled work force. We have an abundance of bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers, carpenters, painters and electricians who are wasting away on the dole. The Government's responsibility is to provide jobs for them, not to demoralise the workers and people and to condemn them to a life in which death offers them the only relief possible under the present Administration.

1.39 am
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Peter Morrison)

I am pleased that at last we are able to discuss this important matter. I remember all too well the night in December when we did not manage to hit it off and when the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) raised the subject of the community programme in relation to his constituents.

The hon. Member was kind enough to say that I had quoted Oliver Twist saying, "Please sir, I want some more." The hon. Gentleman did not understand what I was saying. I was trying to explain that those words do not work in a genuine market economy. They do not work, because one must ask where the "more" comes from.

In his concluding remarks the hon. Gentleman said that the Government have an obligation to provide jobs. The Government cannot, as such, provide jobs. However, they can provide a structure in which jobs can be created. As the hon. Gentleman will know, jobs are created only when a product or a service is provided at a cost or of a quality which he, I and other people wish to buy.

The hon. Gentleman pointed out—I understand it—the difficulties facing his constituents in the transition from the traditional industries, such as steel and coal, to the new industries in his part of Wales. They are difficulties because moving from old to new industries is bound to be a painful process, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman—perhaps it was only rhetoric on his part—that I do not take kindly to his expectation of my using what he chose to describe as the usual excuses for the community programme. He referred to what he described, in terms of the unemployment figures, as statistical disinformation. If he wishes to do that, he should substantiate his case more carefully.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that each day of the week, 365 days a year, 20,000 people find a job? Is he further aware that in manufacturing industry 1,000 jobs are created each day of the week? Is he further aware that last week the CBI, having consulted many of its member firms, came to the conclusion that the prospects for the future are good? Investment and output are up, and orders are the best for five years. I hope that he understands that, in terms of the major economic strategy being followed by the Government, that must be good news for the immediate and long-term future.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a strong personal interest in the community programme. We have corresponded and discussed the matter at intervals, and I am extremely grateful for his interest in it. As I hope he knows, the community programme is an important part of the Government's strategy to help back into the world of work those who have been unemployed for a long time. Our total package costs about £2 billion, and at present 660,000 are involved in the programmes. I hope the hon. Gentleman accepts that the Government are not discarding those who are bridging the difficulties between the old and traditional industries and the new industries. Far from it; we are doing everything that we can to help them.

The community programme was announced in March 1982 by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a successor to the community enterprise programme. It provides full and part-time jobs, as opposed to only full-time jobs under the community enterprise programme. It began to get going in October 1982 and, compared with the community enterprise programme, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, had 30,000 places, the community programme has a target of 130,000 places. By the end of December 1983, of those 130,000 places 116,000 had been filled.

We had a faster take-up and expansion from the 30,000 community enterprise places than we had anticipated. Of the 116,000 filled places, a little more than 39,000 were full-time, and a little more than 76,000 were part-time. I am happy to say that all those places have been filled without difficulty. Contrary to what some had said at the outset of the programme, part-time places were acceptable.

However one looks at them, the economic resources—the taxpayers' funds—that have been committed to the programme are substantial. In 1983–84 they amount to £403 million and in 1984–85 to about £570 million. I hope the hon. Gentleman understands that the Government have a major commitment to the long-term unemployed in terms of the amount of money being set aside.

The programme sponsors, to which I should like to pay tribute, are the local authorities, which are sponsoring about 47 per cent., and the voluntary organisations, which are sponsoring about 40 per cent. For an application to be successful the sponsor must come forward with work done on behalf of and for the benefit of the community, not work done in the normal course of events. We do not want —I use the jargon—to have substitution.

The eligible participants in the programme are those who are 25 and above and have been unemployed for more than 12 out of the previous 15 months and, in the 18 to 24 age group, those who have been unemployed for six out of the previous nine months. The programme rightly benefits, on the margin, the younger age group—the 18 to 24-year-olds. In fact, 54 per cent. of the entrants into the programme are in the 18 to 24 age group.

Last November we announced that the programme would be extended to October 1986 and that the target of 130,000 filled places would be retained. Despite the announcement then of an additional £10 million being allocated to the programme, we had to put a freeze on it because of the speed with which the programme had advanced. A freeze, of course, is followed by a thaw and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, on 10 January we were able to lift the moratorium by making available a further £15 million. The original target of 130,000 filled places can thus be reached by the spring of this year.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we have to plan the programme on a nationwide basis. It is therefore important that allocations are allotted to regions according to the number of long-term unemployed. To achieve the correct balance, there may have to be some revision or rejigging to ensure that the programme is in the right context in the right areas.

The hon. Gentleman understandably spoke of his commitment to CATO, which has been a community programme agent since January last year. That programme has 264 filled places at present. I believe that there are two other schemes in the hon. Gentleman's constituency—one sponsored by Ogwr borough council, with 65 approved and filled places, and another sponsored by the Bettws boys club with 12 approved and filled places.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the three programmes together represent 16 per cent. of the mid-Glamorgan filled place target figure. He will understand that not only in Wales and in the United Kingdom but in his constituency competition for places is intense. As I have said to him both in conversation and in letters, I appreciate that in September last year CATO was considering an expansion from 264 to 342 places, but I hope he will agree that that proposal was never approved.

The question which the hon. Gentleman has posed is whether there should be a reduction in the number of places in the light of competing bids. I can tell him that I am even now considering how best to proceed on this point——

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Monday evening, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at nine minutes to Two o'clock.