HC Deb 24 June 1986 vol 100 cc172-3
11. Mr. John Evans

asked the Paymaster General what is the total number of unemployed in the United Kingdom; and how many of them have been unemployed for more than 12 months, two years and three years, respectively.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

On 10 April 1986, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 3,325,000 unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom. Of these, 1,357,000 had been unemployed for over one year, 845,000 for over two years and 567,000 for over three years.

Mr. Evans

Will the Paymaster General acknowledge that the appalling unemployment figures, which have grown remorselessly since the Conservative party took office, are a disgrace to a civilised society? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept the suggestion of the Employment Committee that those who have been out of work for more than three years should be offered a job for 12 months? The chairman of the Manpower Services Commission has accepted that as a feasible proposition. Will the Paymaster General give some concrete help to those 560,000 people who have been out of work for more than three years?

Mr. Clarke

I accept that the figures show that we must continue the pace of new job creation, if possible at an accelerated rate, in order to get on top of the demographic pressures, which mean that all the time more young people and women are entering the labour market. The hon. Gentleman will know that there has been an increase in the total number of jobs in every quarter since 1983. We expect that to continue, and we also expect our record to continue to be better than that for the rest of the EEC. That is obviously the Government's main effort at present.

We are about to have a debate on the Select Committee's proposals, which have been modified in the light of the Government's initial response to them. I shall be explaining to the House that our restart programme and our expanded community programme already offer very tangible help to the long-term unemployed at a very considerable cost to the taxpayer.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in my constituency, which has above average unemployment at almost 15 per cent., one of our biggest problems is the recruitment of labour? Is it not ironic that that should be the case when 3.3 million people are classified as claiming unemployment benefit, even though we know that many of them are not genuinely unemployed? Has my right hon. and learned Friend experienced similar labour shortages in his constituency?

Mr. Clarke

I suspect that the situation in my constituency is rather similar to that in the constituency of my hon. Friend. However, under our restart programme, we shall be approaching each of the 1.4 million people who are registered with us as being long-term unemployed. We shall be able to steer them towards the growing number of job vacancies that are notified to us, as well as towards training and a whole variety of other measures designed to get them back into work. Of course, if someone is not genuinely available for work, he should not be receiving benefit and he should not he registered as unemployed. We shall seek to ensure that that is so.

Mr. Lofthouse

Will the Paymaster General now revise the travel-to-work area boundaries in mining communities such as mine, where there has been a rapid growth in unemployment as a result of the savage pit closure programme?

Mr. Clarke

The south Yorkshire area — [Interruption.] The west Yorkshire has been very badly affected by the recent inevitable changes in the coal industry. Obviously that area will benefit in particular from the programme of help that we set out in "Action for Jobs", and from the sort of support that we are about to offer through the restart programme.