HC Deb 21 February 1984 vol 54 cc682-4
6. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest number who are now unemployed in the United Kingdom; and how many of these have been unemployed for 12 months or over.

5. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of unemployed people in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Tom King

On 12 January the number of unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom was 3,199,678. Of these, 1,188,039 had been unemployed for over 52 weeks.

Mr. Winnick

Do not those figures, of which every member of the Cabinet should feel thoroughly ashamed, illustrate the immense human misery that is caused by continued mass unemployment? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people in their 40s and onwards are finding it increasingly difficult even to be considered for a job, and thus face the prospect of 10 or 15 years on the dole before they become pensioners? Is that the sort of future the Tories promised in 1979 and 1983?

Mr. King

I think that every hon. Member is aware of the real human tragedy that is contained within the figures and the appalling difficulties that they represent for many people. Most hon. Members recognise the seriousness of the problem, which is shared by all countries in the Western world. The problem is not best met, in the interests of those suffering from it, by sloganising. The answer lies in a determination to make Britain competitive once more and to achieve an improved rate of growth. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join my hon. Friends in welcoming the announcement that was made today that in 1983 Britain achieved the fastest rate of growth for the whole of the last decade.

Sir Dudley Smith

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the upturn in the economy is now accepted in most quarters? Does he think that this underlines the good sense of the Government's policies? At the end of the day, is this not the best way of dealing with the admittedly difficult problem of mass unemployment?

Mr. King

As we have always said, Britain must first become competitive. That competitiveness will give us a better chance to improve our rate of growth. I was pleased to be able to announce in the figures supplied by my Department that now, at last, for the third quarter of last year, and for the first time in four years, there has been an increase in the numbers in employment. That is an important step forward in ensuring that there are more jobs for all our people.

Mr. Crowther

What effect does the Secretary of State expect the White Paper on public expenditure to have on the unemployment figures? Is it not obvious that the Government's plans, which provide for virtually no increase in capital spending, but at the same time greatly reduce the spending of local authorities over the next three years, will necessarily put more people on the dole? What representations is he making to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring in an economic policy which actually gets people back to work?

Mr. King

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman decided on that supplementary question before listening to my earlier answers. The Government's policy of restraint on public expenditure is now leading to a much lower rate of inflation than was expected, and much lower interest rates than many forecasters predicted. It is leading to the best growth in the economy that we have seen for the past 10 years. For the first time there has been a real increase in the numbers at work. That shows that at last we are seeing some real prospects of making an impact on the serious problem of unemployment.

Mrs. Rumbold

I sympathise with my right hon. Friend over the number of unemployed, but is he able to tell the House how many people each day get a job?

Mr. King

It is significant that 7 million people obtained new jobs last year. There is a considerably greater turnover than many appreciate, and many people are able to get new jobs. We estimate that there have been about 250,000 new jobs in the service sector in the past year.

Mr. John Smith

As unemployment remains stubbornly at well over 3 million, as the right hon. Gentleman has confirmed, and the Treasury has told the Government Actuary that there will be no change in 1984, who does the Government think is responsible for this terrible situation? Are the Government responsible? If they are not after nearly five years of Conservative policies, who is to blame?

Mr. King

It would be very difficult entirely to exonerate the Labour Benches from blame. I do not accept that the figures will necessarily stay stubbornly above 3 million. Some forecasters suggest that there may be a reduction this year. That will depend upon a number of factors. The biggest single cause of unemployment is the progressive decline in the competitiveness of British industry since the war. It is significant to note that if we had held on to the share of our own markets that we had 10 years ago, 1½ million more people would now be in work.