HC Deb 09 July 1998 vol 315 cc1223-5
4. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

What assessment he has made of the likely trends in unemployment in the UK over the next two years; and if he will make a statement. [48091]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Mr. Andrew Smith)

By long-standing convention the Government do not publish forecasts of this kind.

Sir Teddy Taylor

While some of us think that the general outlook is rather depressing, does the Minister accept that the special problems of seaside towns like my constituency, where unemployment is particularly high, deserve his attention? One of my wards has 25 per cent. unemployment, yet we are denied all kinds of grants because we are counted as being in travel-to-work areas where unemployment is much lower.

Would the Minister be willing to have a special look at this problem, particularly over the next two years? Would he discuss with other colleagues in the Cabinet the possibility of changing the travel-to-work area basis for grants, bearing it in mind that in Southend we have lots of unemployment but no grants whatever?

Mr. Smith

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have as part of the new deal and our wider welfare-to-work initiative looked at the problems of seaside areas and the particular issues of seasonality as a factor in unemployment, and we have amended the criteria for early entry to the new deal programme to allow personal advisers the discretion to admit people early where seasonality and the pattern of work have been damaging prospects for employment.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues who represent seaside areas will acknowledge that we appreciate their particular needs. The hon. Gentleman referred to definitions of areas for particular help, and the matter is under consideration. It is primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade; I shall make sure that the hon. Gentleman's concerns are drawn to her attention.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

As my right hon. Friend is aware, the Manchester City Pride partnership responsible for delivering the new deal in Salford has applied to be a pilot project for the extension of the new deal to the long-term unemployed. Would not that be an excellent way to attack the unemployment problem, particularly in inner cities? A key issue for people wanting to become self-employed and to start their own business is access to capital, but in many inner-city areas, that is difficult. What help can the Minister provide to ensure that unemployed people have a real chance to set up their own business and so reduce the unemployment which is the scourge of many inner-city areas?

Mr. Smith

As part of the new deal for the young unemployed, help and advice will be available on progress to self-employment, and that will include advice on access to capital. As part of the new deal for the long-term unemployed, which started on 29 June, we shall extend access through work-based training to self-employment help and business start-up support. Where local TECs, like City Pride, can make that available, that will also be a feature of all the pilots which will be starting in November. I cannot endorse any particular pilot because we have to make a selection judged on the merits of the case, but I recognise the high quality of the delivery of the new deal for the young unemployed in Manchester.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

The Minister may not want to forecast unemployment now, but before the election he was happy to promise that he would make savings in benefits to unemployed people in order to spend more on education. Will he confirm that the number of unemployed people claiming benefit is now rising? Is that why the Government are incapable of delivering their pledge to raise the proportion of GDP on education spending?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman would do well to recall that since the Government were elected to office, employment has risen by 300,000, unemployment claimants are down by 270,000, and International Labour Organisation unemployment is down by 265,000. The hon. Gentleman referred to recent trends. In the first quarter of this year employment increased by 60,000 and unemployment decreased by 35,000.

When the public hear these claims from the Opposition, they will not forget that it was the Conservative Government who took unemployment above 3 million, who condemned more than 1 million young people to unemployment, and who presided over interest rates at 15 per cent., inflation at nearly 10 per cent., and record levels of bankruptcies and repossessions. There can be no return to the boom and bust and the incalculable damage inflicted on the British people by the Conservative party.