HC Deb 26 February 1997 vol 291 cc319-21
1. Mr. Grocott

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what recent assessment she has made of the impact on employees of job insecurity. [16052]

12. Mr. Burden

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if she will make a statement on the extent of job insecurity in Britain. [16064]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

A healthy and efficient labour market minimises job insecurity. In the United Kingdom, over the past four years, nearly 900,000 jobs have been created and unemployment has fallen by more than 1 million.

Mr. Grocott

I thank the Secretary of State for her Department's courtesy in advising me that my question was linked with Question 12. I was startled to receive that information in a letter from the parliamentary business section signed by one John Major. I knew that there was job insecurity among Tory Members, but I had not realised that it had reached such crisis levels.

Has the Secretary of State seen the International Survey Research survey that shows that, whereas 10 years ago three quarters of people in work felt that their jobs were secure, the figure is now less than half, at 43 per cent.? Has she further seen the evidence in the British Medical Journal showing—as anyone with common sense could have guessed—that people whose jobs are threatened by privatisation or reorganisation are more likely to report symptoms of ill health than those in secure jobs?

Can I say to the Secretary of State—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."]—and to the many hon. Members behind her, who will not be with us for much longer, that problems of job insecurity are among the key reasons why people in Britain have no feel-good factor?

Mrs. Shephard

A number of people rejoice in the name John Major, including an official in my Department; all of them have great cause to feel perfectly secure in their jobs.

I am aware of the survey that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but the majority of employees in this country have been in the same job for five years or more, and the average is eight years. The biggest cause of job insecurity is unemployment. Opposition Members do themselves no credit, and the unemployed no service, by ignoring what the rest of Europe knows: that because of British enterprise and the economic policies pursued by the Government we have in the past four years created more jobs here than France, Italy, Spain and Germany have, put together.

Mr. Burden

Surely the Secretary of State knows that, since 1992, in the west midlands, there has been a 50 per cent. increase in the number of people in temporary jobs. Is she aware that the figures show that people coming off the dole today stand a 50 per cent. or greater chance of being on it again within 12 months? Does she agree that, against that background, only a fool would describe job insecurity as a state of mind or a myth, that people are sick and tired of the Government's complacency on job insecurity, and that that is the message that will be given by the people of Wirral, South tomorrow?

Mrs. Shephard

I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman's question. He might have been gracious enough to refer to the fact that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 17 per cent. in a year, thanks to the Government's policies. He should admit that the policies that he and his party espouse—the national minimum wage and the European social model of employment—would threaten this country with levels of unemployment like those in Germany, at 4.3 million, and in France, at 3.1 million.

Mr. David Nicholson

Is it not the case that studies have shown that claims that job insecurity is considerable and increasing are false? Is it not the case that Britain has the lowest proportion of people in temporary work of any country in Europe? Is it not a betrayal of the success of industry, commerce and the Employment Service to claim that the statistics are fudged? The facts show that they are not, and that this country is doing better than any country in Europe.

Mrs. Shephard

Yes. The facts show that, among the major European economies, the United Kingdom has the lowest proportion of its employees in temporary work. It is sad that Opposition Members cannot welcome the fact that the United Kingdom has a higher proportion of people in work, and a lower proportion out of work, than any other major country in Europe. That is good news.

Mr. Garnier

Is my right hon. Friend aware that unemployment in my constituency has recently fallen yet again, and now stands at just over 1,350—a 50 per cent. reduction since 1992? Is she also aware that every reliable survey in the east midlands demonstrates that business confidence has never been better, that order books are getting longer and thicker, and that what my constituents fear most is people such as the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott)—who was insufferably cocky a few moments ago—forming a Government?

Mrs. Shephard

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the success story from his constituency. I agree that it is time for Opposition Members to congratulate British business and British workers on the fact that unemployment fell again this month, in all regions, for men and women.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Secretary of State agree that we must all accept that the rapid changes in industry and commerce mean that we can no longer expect the lifelong employment that past generations enjoyed? Does she also agree that those entering employment, especially those leaving schools and universities, should be advised to expect three, four or more career changes during their working lives, and that the best way to avoid job insecurity is to gain qualifications and continue to upgrade personal skills?

Mrs. Shephard

All major economies are facing rapid changes in their labour market. Young people are well aware of that, and they understand the necessity of leaving school, college and university equipped and trained to cope with those changes. True job security can be created only by fostering the conditions that encourage and allow employers to create jobs. We have attracted a third of all European inward investment because the Government's successful economic policies have been designed to do just that.

Mr. Congdon

Is my right hon. Friend aware that recent reports show that, despite perceptions to the contrary, the average length of time that people spend in jobs is similar to what it was a decade ago? Does she agree that the biggest danger to job security would be the implementation of the minimum wage and the social chapter, which would destroy jobs?

Mrs. Shephard

Yes. The majority of employees have been in the same job for five years or more, and the average length of time spent in a job is eight years. The policies espoused by the Opposition—the minimum wage and the European social model—would strike at the heart of the job security that we have.

Mr. Byers

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), the Secretary of State said that the greatest cause of job insecurity was unemployment. Can she confirm that some 10.25 million people—one in four of the population of working age—have experienced at least one spell of unemployment since the general election? Is she aware that some 14,000 of those were registered through Bebington jobcentre, which covers the constituency of Wirral, South? In the light of those figures, does she agree that that provides 14,000 extra reasons why the voters of Wirral, South will tomorrow reject the Conservative party and ensure job insecurity for Tory Members?

Mrs. Shephard

Well, well, here is one I prepared earlier. Eight million people change jobs every year. I am delighted that the people of Wirral, South have enjoyed the same drop in unemployment and increase in jobs as people in every other part of the country.