HC Deb 18 March 1986 vol 94 cc152-3
8. Mr. Dixon

asked the Paymaster General when he now expects to respond to the Employment Committee's report on special employment measures and the long-term unemployed; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

We are studying the report very carefully and will submit a detailed memorandum to the Committee as soon as possible.

Mr. Dixon

That answer is not good enough. Is the Paymaster General aware that in my constituency 3,885 men and women have been out of work for over a year and that 43.1 per cent. of those unemployed are long-term unemployed? When will the Paymaster General get off his backside and do something positive about it?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the long-term unemployed are now our most serious social problem. They are not yet sharing fully in the recovery in the jobs market. I would also point out that in the hon. Gentleman's own area of south Tyneside we have greatly increased the amount of adult training that we are giving to people to enable them to be better equipped for jobs. Over the years from 1984–85 to 1985–86 the numbers receiving adult training increased from 1,752 to 4,800. That is a 174 per cent. increase in the south Tyneside area.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that until we operate the work test we shall never know the true unemployment levels? Is any work being done on the possibility of instituting a proper work test and work fare measures?

Mr. Clarke

All those on the count currently should be genuinely available for work. The most recent labour force survey showed that over 9,000 had not looked for work recently. We also know, as people have said, that there are those not on the count who are seeking work. The trouble is that every time we try to improve these obvious imperfections in the figures the Opposition raise cheap jibes of fiddling because they do not really want to know the true position.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Paymaster General aware that there are many voluntary groups which are already doing job creation along the lines recommended in the Select Committee's excellent report and that they are stifled and inhibited from doing more only by the Manpower Services Commission's bureaucratic regulations? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman examine the possibility of relaxing the regulations to enable more work to be done along the lines of the report?

Mr. Clarke

The Manpower Services Commission has greatly increased the direct employment measures and training provisions that it provides on behalf of the Government. I will always look at examples of bureaucracy getting in the way of expansion of that, but the community programme, in particular, has been expanded flat out recently and I do not think that it would be practicable to take more people on it.

Mr. Evans

Will the Paymaster-General confirm that there are now more than 1,350,000 people classified as long-term unemployed in this country, that more than 550,000 of them are men aged over 50 and that that is a tragic waste of one of the nation's greatest resources? Does the Paymaster General appreciate that the message of the Select Committee on Employment was a ray of hope to those people? Why does he not accept it and give them more hope?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have been concentrating in nine pilot areas on measures that can give help to the long-term unemployed. We have been able to offer individual assistance to the long-term unemployed by giving them a range of job opportunities and training, including the teaching of work application methods, which have benefited individually those who have come forward in our nine pilot areas. Although I share the aims of the Select Committee's report, its proposals are largely impracticable. For example, I do not believe that it would be possible to provide 100,000 one-year jobs for the unskilled and the untrained in the National Health Service and the social services. We have to look for practicable measures, and that is what we have been doing.

Mr. Rowe

When my right hon. and learned Friend last answered questions on this report he gave the very clear impression that he was working to prepare the ground for a guarantee for the long-term unemployed. Since then the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission has told the Select Committee that he could implement such a guarantee, were it to be introduced. I wonder whether this means that my right hon. and learned Friend can bring forward the time when we can look for a guaranteee for at least some of the long-term unemployed?

Mr. Clarke

I have been trying out various ways of bringing additional help to the long-term unemployed. I have visited a scheme in Bolton that offers a guarantee of employment to those who have been unemployed for three years or more. My hon. Friend must await the results of all our considerations.