HC Deb 15 March 1993 vol 221 cc4-6
4. Mr. Bayley

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what percentage of his Department's budget in 1992–93 can be accounted for by unemployment.

5. Mr. Wicks

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the total amount spent in the course of a year on benefits for those who have been unemployed for more than 12 months.

Mr. Burt

The estimated cost of unemployment benefit, housing benefit and social fund payments to unemployed people represents some 12 per cent. of my Department's budget. It is not possible to provide separate figures for benefit expenditure in respect of people who have been unemployed for more than 12 months.

Mr. Bayley

Does the Minister accept that that amounts to billions and billions of pounds a year, and that that goes a long way to explain why the proportion of national wealth taken in taxation by the Conservative Government now is higher than the proportion taken by the Labour Government in 1979? Will he guarantee that the Government will try to cut that sum—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—by reducing the number of unemployed and not by cutting the scope or value of benefits for the unemployed?

Mr. Burt

The hon. Gentleman almost dug a trap for himself but tried to extricate himself from it. The Government share the view of everyone that the best way to deal with unemployment benefit costs is to reduce the number of unemployed. The Government intend to provide practical help for those who are unemployed and we are, indeed, providing more practical help and advice than ever before for those who are looking for work.

It should also be recognised that the employment market is never static. In January, there were 180,000 vacancies in Jobcentres—the highest figure for two years—and the Department of Employment and the Employment Service are constantly working to put people back into work. Last year they placed 1.3 million people and this year they hope to place 1.5 million people. I persist in saying that the best way to ensure that more people are employed is to ensure that interest rates and inflation are low. Those are precisely the policies which the Government are pursuing, and we shall see more jobs as a result.

Mr. Wicks

Does the Minister agree that [...]his answers—and I am being generous—further illustrate the substantial impact that mass unemployment is making on his Department's budget and priorities and the fact that it is distorting the way in which we meet need? Does he agree that that is further evidence that Britain cannot afford unemployment, and that what the unemployed need is not income support but jobs—not workfare but fair work?

Mr. Burt

I do not disagree with the sentiment behind the hon. Gentleman's question; I am happy to agree with it. Despite the recession, Britain has the highest percentage of people in work of any country in the European Community apart from Luxembourg and Denmark. Vacancies at jobcentres are at a two-year high and confidence among the business community has increased. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues may have a vested interest in reducing confidence, but he should remember that he does not speak for the nation. We are determined to come through a very deep world recession with confidence, and to emerge from it with jobs, industry, dignity and success.

Mr. Evennett

Can my hon. Friend confirm that,, since the Government came to office in 1979, social security expenditure has increased by two thirds in real terms? Will he reaffirm the Conservative party's, and the Government's, belief in channelling benefits to those in the greatest need and confirm that we will continue to do that until we ensure that everyone has a decent standard of living?

Mr. Burt

My hon. Friend is quite correct. The Government place the highest priority on ensuring that benefits go to those most in need, while making sure that the economy works so that there are fewer unemployed in future. What the unemployed need, more than benefit, is jobs.

Mr. Congdon

Will my hon. Friend confirm that now that base rates are down to 6 per cent., they are the lowest in Europe and that that provides the best basis for future growth and hence a reduction in unemployment?

Mr. Burt

My hon. Friend is quite right. Such statistics provide the basis for jobs in the future to which I referred.

Mr. Dewar

But will the Minister confirm that the 12 per cent. of his budget that goes on unemployment amounts to the frightening figure of £10.4 billion in the coming year? Is not that a condemnation of the destructive policies that the Government are following? If the Minister recognises that the real cure is to reduce the number in the dole queues, does not he have a duty to back policies designed to achieve that end, rather than holding to the rather primitive view of the Secretary of State that Governments should do nothing? Specifically, does he agree with his colleagues in the Department of Employment that the principle of workfare must be rejected because it would lead to a low wage, low productivity economy"?

Mr. Burt

The Government have no intention of introducing a workfare model in the manner described by the hon. Gentleman. The Government have been providing as much practical help for the unemployed as possible and the Department of Employment is doing just that. At the start of the hon. Gentleman's comments, he persisted in trying to suggest that unemployment and the recession are purely British phenomena. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman spends some of his spare time visiting his socialist friends in France who will very shortly be spending rather more time with their families because they are about to be thrown out of office. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues do not have the distinction of being thrown out of office—simply because they were too awful to gain office in the first place.

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