HC Deb 07 May 1985 vol 78 cc616-7
12. Ms. Harman

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the current numbers of women registered unemployed; and what were the numbers for April 1979.

Mr. Alan Clark

On 11 April 1985 the number of women claiming unemployment benefit was 1,002,000 compared with an estimated total of 328,000 in April 1979.

Ms. Harman

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he believes that women have absolutely the same right to work as men, including women who have small children and are married to men who are in work? Do women also have an absolute equal right to join training schemes in the bogus Government programmes?

Mr. Clark

Yes, of course I agree with the hon. Lady. Women account for 40 per cent. of the civilian work force, but on a majority of our training schemes, inluding YTS and TVEI, they represent over 40 per cent. of the participants.

Mr. Stokes

While considering the number of women who are unemployed, will my hon. Friend also consider the number of women who are employed today, and especially the vast increase in the number of married women who are employed?

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend is entirely right. During the six years around which the hon. Lady couched her question, the number of women in employment has stayed steady at well over 9 million. In the past year the number of women in full-time jobs increased by 14,000 and of those in part-time work by nearly 200,000.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Minister aware that in my constituency employment among women has trebled? Is he also aware that at the last general election there was a Labour majority in the constituency of 3,500, whereas on last Thursday's results it would have been 11,500? Does that trend not show that massive unemployment is pending for Conservative Members? What will the Minister do about that?

Mr. Clark

Doubtless the hon. Gentleman will use that question in whichever column he is currently writing for the national newspapers. Whatever it may be in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, the national unemployment rate for women is some 2.5 per cent. below that for men.

Mr. Currie

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a matter not of rights but of obligations? These days, when Mrs. Average takes her son to get a job, it is she who gets the job rather than him. Does not that situation reflect a lack of flexibility and of skill, and the high cost of employing young people today?

Mr. Clark

Certainly there are many occupations in which the special skills and dedication that they can contribute make women preferable as employees.

Ms. Richardson

Does the Minister not understand that women who are seeking work as of right are being pushed into part-time jobs because only part-time jobs are available? In changing the rules for the community programme, which virtually exclude women, and in cutting the number of public sector jobs, which also affects women, are not the Government reducing women's chances of employment? Is it not a disgrace that, of all the women unemployed in Europe, 40 per cent. live in this country?

Mr. Clark

I do not think that the hon. Lady is right about part-time employment. Many women prefer part-time employment and contribute to a valuable sector in the economy. As for benefit entitlement on the community programme, the hon. Lady knows that the decision was based on proper priorities. Places should be restricted to those receiving benefit.