HC Deb 22 July 1986 vol 102 cc166-8
3. Mr. Dormand

asked the Paymaster General what was the number of persons unemployed for one year and two years, respectively, at May 1979 and at the latest available date.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Direct comparisons of unemployment by duration since 1979 are not possible because of changes in the way figures are collected. However, on 5 April 1979 the numbers of people in the United Kingdom who had been registered unemployed for over one year and over two years were 366,700 and 179,800 respectively. The corresponding numbers of unemployed claimants as at 10 April 1986 were 1,356,500 and 845,200 respectively.

Mr. Dormand

Does the Paymaster General agree that those appalling comparisons are the biggest condemnation of the Government's economic policies? I remind him yet again that the number of long-term unemployed now is greater than the total number unemployed people when Labour left office. When will he recognise that the present tinkering with schemes does not meet the problem and that there will have to be a fundamental change of policy? He should come to my constituency and talk to some of the long-term unemployed and see what they think about what he is doing.

Mr. Clarke

I agree that long-term unemployment is the biggest social problem that faces the country. It is more serious than the total figure, which disguises the fact that 500,000 people find a new job each month. The 1.4 million long-term unemployed are those to whom we are giving particular attention. Every long-term unemployed person in the hon. Gentleman's constituency will be interviewed during the next few months under the restart initiative, and each will be offered eight different ways in which he might get back into work. That will continue the considerable success that we have already enjoyed in the nine pilot areas.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the main reasons why this country suffers from high levels of long-term unemployment is the legacy of the anti-business, anti-enterprise, anti-profit policies which were pursued by the last Labour Government?

Mr. Clarke

Yes, and it is extremely important to reverse that part of our culture. That is why our Department and others concentrate so heavily on, for example, the business expansion scheme to encourage investment in new business, and why we are constantly strengthening the small business service and local enterprise agencies and all the other methods that we have to encourage enterprise culture.

Mr. O'Brien

Will the Paymaster General accept the view advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) about there being large pockets of unemployment, especially in mining areas where there have been pit closures? Will he take on board the fact that unemployment in those areas is high and that the number of people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more is high? Will he do something about that and ensure that unemployment is brought down, and that employment is created in mining constituencies?

Mr. Clarke

I accept the need for efforts of that kind and I am glad that the National Coal Board's enterprise company has been so successful in helping people to establish themselves in business and to bring new businesses into the coalfields. We need more efforts of that kind and more successes of the kind being achieved in places such as Consett and Corby, steel towns which where badly hit by redundancies. The same needs to be done wherever major redundancies occur in older, traditional industries.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

While unemployment is so high, does my right hon. and learned Friend think it justified to allow more than 250,000 Irish nationals to work in the British economy?

Mr. Clarke

That is a long-standing issue, going back to the creation of the Irish Republic in the 1920s. Free movement of labour is an important principle of the European Community, from which we benefit as much as anyone else. Questions about access of Irish citizens to this country are best referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Prescott

The Paymaster General now officially recognises that more than 1 million more people have been unemployed for more than 12 months since the Government came to power. As the Government profess concern for those people, does he accept that recent changes to the Social Security Bill mean that a married man with two children taking a community scheme job will face a cut in pay or a suspension in benefit for 13 weeks? Is a conscripted labour force the Government's alternative policy?

Mr. Clarke

I appreciate that that is one reason why the community programme is more attractive to younger and single employees. Tomorrow we shall be discussing reforms in the social security system which improve support for low-earning heads of families. That will be of great benefit to people wishing to get into work and away from unemployment. The job start allowance, now available nationally, provides a £20 a week allowance for a man obliged to take a low-paid job as his first job back in work. That will also help.

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