HC Deb 07 May 1985 vol 78 cc607-10
3. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people, including school leavers, are now unemployed in Lambeth; and how many of them are black.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Alan Clark)

On 11 April 1985 the number of unemployed claimants, including school leavers, in the London borough of Lambeth was 25,986. A breakdown of unemployment by ethnic origin at local level is not available.

Mr. Fraser

That figure, which is an increase on last month's, is disgraceful. Can the Under-Secretary recall the Minister telling us last month that one of the reasons for the loss of job opportunities in Lambeth was high rates? Bearing in mind that rate capping will lead to the loss of 1,500 to 2,000 jobs, is he calculating that there will be a net gain in jobs as a result of rate capping?

Mr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman represents a constituency in which the council has doubled the rates over the past two years, so he would do better to stay off that subject. As he knows, over the past year both vacancies and placings have risen by as much as 18 per cent. in his constituency.

Mr. Rowe

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Lambeth during the past 10 years the number of members of the chamber of commerce has fallen by more than half, in direct proportion to the increase in rates?

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend's figures show the decline in the number of small businesses and the fact that employment now depends on the public corporate sector and on the service industries.

5. Ms. Clare Short

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the current numbers of people who have been unemployed for over 12 months.

7. Miss Maynard

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the numbers of people under the age of 25 years who have been unemployed for over 12 months.

Mr. Alan Clark

On 10 January 1985 a total of 1,316,000 claimants had been unemployed for more than one year in the United Kingdom. The number of claimants under 25 years of age who had been unemployed for more than one year was 365,000.

Ms. Short

Does the Minister understand, or care, that those 1.3 million people are suffering the most brutal effects of the Government's deliberate high unemployment policy? They suffer real poverty, because the Government insist that they should live on short-term benefits and will not pay the long-term rate of supplementary benefit. We know from studies that they suffer a high incidence of family break-up, mental illness and suicide. Do the Government suggest that their recent paltry expansion of the community programme is an adequate response to their needs, when it will offer part-time, temporary work at low wages, and then throw the vast bulk of those people back into unemployment? They want real, permanent jobs.

Mr. Clark

The considerable expansion of the community programme by 100,000 places has been widely welcomed. The hon. Lady must face the fact that our policy is to match needs and resources. The proportion by which that is done is a matter for debate, but the Government's approach to the problem was recently endorsed by our partners at the economic summit. Their unemployment is increasing faster than ours.

Mr. Forman

Since a disturbing proportion of the long-term unemployed have been out of work for more than three years—the estimate is about 430,000 do my hon. Friend and the Department intend to make special new efforts to direct programmes to their needs, especially is the area of training and re-training?

Mr. Clark

We shall consider all possibilities. My hon. Friend published an interesting pamphlet on the subject. However, it is impossible to escape the fact-that resources are limited and that the Government already spend £2 billion on training and employment measures. If my hon. Friend believes that that total should be increased, he has only to make representations to us.

Miss Maynard

Does the Minister agree that one of the worst scandals is the number of young people who are long-term unemployed? Is he aware that 1.3 million 18 to 25-year-olds are on the scrap heap, that a quarter of those have been unemployed for 12 months, and that nearly half of them have not had jobs since they left school? When will the Government change their policy and give youngsters some hope and the opportunity of making a positive contribution to society by having real jobs?

Mr. Clark

I understand the hon. Lady's indignation, but I must tell her that the figures from her constituency show that the overall percentage of young unemployed has fallen during the past year, as has the number of youngsters aged under 18 in long-term unemployment.

Mr. Lyell

Is not one of the significant aspects of the community programme and other cost-effective programmes, such as the voluntary projects programme, that once people get into work in such programmes their chances of moving to mainstream employment are much better? Therefore, will my hon. Friend encourage further programmes of work in the community, such as helping the frail elderly, so that people may move from such useful employment back into mainstream work?

Mr. Clark

My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. The scope and complexity of the schemes are being expanded. More than 61 per cent. of participants are aged under 25, and 34 per cent. are aged under 21.

Mr. Kennedy

Given that the Government are fond of claiming that part of the problem of increasing unemployment is people pricing themselves out of work, will the Minister comment on a recent inquiry, sponsored by the Highlands and Islands Development Board, which showed that average earnings in my part of Scotland were between 5 and 10 per cent. below the national average? As unemployment has more than doubled there, where does that leave the Government's economic theory?

Mr. Clark

It is natural that wages should vary from one region to another. The Government have no responsibility for regional variations in wage levels.

Mr. Roger King

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way not to help the unemployed is to indulge in knocking our own products? Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning the Opposition's attitude of throwing into doubt BL's future as a result of scurrilous rumour-mongering that 5,000 jobs in my constituency are at risk, simply because BL will not receive the money for which it has not actually asked?

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend has highlighted the key factor in reducing the total number of unemployed, which is that British goods should be of the right quality and at the right price to expand production.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Under-Secretary of State come to Bootle to meet the long-term unemployed? Bearing in mind that 30 per cent. of active males in Bootle are unemployed, will he explain to them why, in an area where wages are lower than anywhere else in Britain, and where the metropolitan district council has set the lowest rates in the country, unemployment is still increasing?

Mr. Clark

The reasons have been highlighted in earlier questions. Real jobs will not exist if British manufacturers do not produce the goods to fill their order books.