HC Deb 20 June 1989 vol 155 cc130-2
2. Mr. Wood

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment by how much long-term unemployment has fallen during the past year; and if he will make a statement.

7. Mr. Ken Hargreaves

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment which regions had the sharpest fall in long-term unemployment during the past year; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)

In the year to April 1989 the number of people unemployed for 12 months or more fell by 28 per cent. Long-term unemployment has fallen even faster than total unemployment and is now at its lowest level for more than six years. Long-term unemployment has fallen in all regions. The biggest falls have been in East Anglia, the south-east and the west midlands.

Mr. Wood

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, which demonstrates that Government policies have meant that many more people are working and producing goods and services that people require than are involved in wasteful Government schemes such as those advocated two years ago by the Opposition. Can my right hon. Friend tell me more about the specifics in terms of particular age groups such as those between 18 and 24, those over 25 and those over 50 who have particular problems in employment?

Mr. Fowler

There have been reductions in unemployment in all those age groups. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, long-term unemployment is now down by one third compared to a year ago and has more than halved over the past two years alone. Among the over-25s, long-term unemployment has fallen by a quarter over the past 12 months, and among those aged over 50 there has been a fall of almost 30 per cent. over the past two years.

Dr. Reid

I welcome any fall in any form of unemployment. However, will the Minister recognise that the long-term unemployed in my constituency have been among the worst hit by the decision to close part-time benefit offices? May I bring to his attention Cleland and Newmains where there would be no additional cost to his Department if the offices were run since the local club in Cleland offered its premises free, I have offered my parliamentary premises free and the local community has even offered to pay the taxi fares to those offices for Department of Employment employees? Does he think that the closure is a totally unjustifiable imposition on those who are already suffering through long-term unemployment?

Mr. Fowler

No, I do not think that. I shall certainly think about the hon. Gentleman's example and consider whether anything can be done. What he said at the beginning of his question was right—that the whole House should welcome the fact that long-term unemployment, which must be regarded as the priority, is falling quickly, and more quickly than unemployment generally.

Mr. Conway

I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend's comments about long-term unemployment. Will he debunk the myth put about by Opposition Members that the fall in long-term unemployment has resulted from people taking part-time jobs? Has not about 85 per cent. of the growth in employment been in full-time employment, in contradiction to the myth propagated by the Opposition?

Mr. Fowler

During the past 12 months there has been a large increase in full-time employment. However, I do not in any way devalue part-time employment, which many people want. As a purely factual statement, I confirm that full-time employment has increased by more than 80 per cent. during the past 12 months.

Mr. Corbett

As the Government have helped to create record unemployment, with the closure of one factory in five in Birmingham, the west midlands and the remainder of the country, can the Secretary of State tell us when unemployment will come down to the level that he inherited in 1979?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman needs to study the comparisons between Britain and the other western European countries, in all of which the unemployment rate rose in 1979 and in the early 1980s. The significant factor in what is happening in this country, especially in the west midlands, is that unemployment is falling faster than it is in any other western European country.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just the fall in long-term unemployment, but the massive rise in employment generally that is very beneficial to citizens of all ages? Is he aware that Lancaster is rapidly running out of industrial land because of the great pressure from businesses wishing to start up? Will he ask his colleagues to assist him in reclaiming what remains of derelict land so that it can be used for industry?

Mr. Fowler

I shall certainly consider any proposals put to me by my hon. Friend because I agree with the thrust of her question. She is right to suggest that the figures show that this country's record in creating new jobs is better than that of any other country in western Europe.

Mr. Fatchett

Is it not true that the Chancellor's only weapon to fight inflation—pushing up interest rates—is deliberately designed to squeeze activity in the economy, which will reduce the number of jobs and therefore increase unemployment? Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to say what he expects the unemployment figure to be in 12 months' time? Is he aware that most people suspect that there will be an increase in unemployment and that the figures that he cheerfully announced this afternoon will look very different in 12 months?

Mr. Fowler

I will not make such an estimate, and I never have done. At the general election in 1987 the Labour party, in its wildest dreams, said that it would reduce unemployment by 1 million in two years. This Government have reduced unemployment by more than 1 million and there are still more than 600,000 vacancies. There is no reason why unemployment should not continue to fall. The hon. Gentleman cannot bear to hear the good news about unemployment.

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