HL Deb 25 October 1984 vol 456 cc272-4

3.3 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will list the number of people who have been unemployed for over one, two, and three years respectively.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, figures for July 1984, the latest available, show that in the United Kingdom there were 546,165 unemployed for over one year and up to two; 311,930 for over two years and up to three; and 376,273 for over three years. As there are a number of other figures relating to 1979–1983, I will, with your Lordships' permission, circulate the full information in the Official Report.

Following is the information referred to:

Unemployed by duration of unemployment at July each year:
Over 1 year and up to 2 years Over 2 years and up to 3 years United Kingdom over 3 years
July '79 178,277 72,754 109,591
July '80 174,085 73,667 116,328
July '81 389,023 98.701 139,156
July '82 676,149 217,952 176,405
July '83 587,186 268,314 247,081
July '84 546,165 311,930 376,273
NOTE: Comparisons over time are affected by the October change in the basis of the unemployment count (from registrations to claimants) and by 1983 Budget provisions which enabled an estimated 162,000 men aged 60 and over, 125,000 of whom had been unemployed for over one year, to receive the long-term rate of supplementary benefit and national insurance credits without having to sign on.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. However, would the noble Lord agree that the figures that he has just given indicate that the number of people who will be out of work in the long term is still showing a substantial and dangerous increase? Would the Minister care to predict when he expects this reservoir of despair to begin to reduce? While I accept the measures that the Government have taken to attempt to alleviate unemployment, which the noble Lord announced in Answer to another Question last week, is he aware that the lifebelt being thrown to people in this pool of despair is nowhere sufficient? When can we expect some additional measures of an urgent nature to deal with this situation?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there is no question that the figures are of great concern, though I am advised that they show some lessening in the rate of increase compared to a year ago. There are, I think, some encouraging signs in particular, the latest figures that I have been given show some 247,000 additional people in work compared to a year ago. The noble Lord also asked me about increased resources. We are putting massive resources totalling £2¼ billion into assisting some 670,000 people who are involved in the Manpower Services Commission's special employment and training measures, with a great emphasis on training. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced some improvements in those measures within the last two to three months and I am sure that when the noble Lord heard of them he welcomed them.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, will the noble Lord tell us what proportion of the doubled number of training places for adults will be on the community programme which, as he knows, is designed specifically for the long-term unemployed?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it will be some 50,000.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, will my noble friend inform me whether any records are kept of the number of job opportunities or job offers that are given to people who are unemployed, or whether we are to presume that these people have not had job offers?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I gave to your Lordships' House two days ago a figure which shows that vacancies in this country at the moment are the highest that they have been for the last four-and-a-half years.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that last week I asked him about some figures concerning what he has again referred to as new employment over the past year? May we assume that he is speaking on behalf of the Department of Employment? If so, has he had time in the ensuing week to look at the figures published by his own department, which show that during the second quarter of this year the number in new employment is only one quarter of that in the last quarter of last year? Does this not show an underlying trend which is gravely slowing down the numbers placed in new employment?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, this is one of those occasions on which both the noble Lord and I are correct. The noble Lord is absolutely right that, taking the two particular quarters which he has selected, there is some slowing down in the rate of increase of the creation of new jobs. At the same time I repeat the figure which I have been given and which I believe to be correct, which is that the latest figures available show that there are some 247,000 more people in employment than there were the year before.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister agree that, unfortunately, many of the long-term unemployed are now concentrated in certain districts and communities? Will the Government consider introducing some new measures more specifically aimed at communities which have really lost their traditional form of employment and which are not sufficiently pinpointed under the regional aid which is at present given?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I believe that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be looking at certain of the special employment and training measures which are due to come to an end in March of next year unless anything is done and, therefore, I think that we can expect some further information from my right honourable friend. Indeed, I shall draw his attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, has said in this respect.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the number of unemployed is unevenly distributed throughout the regions of the United Kingdom? In view of the noble Lord's concern for helping in this situation, will he explain the fact that regional employment grants have been cut by one third in the last year and by no less than 50 per cent. for Scotland? In the circumstances is that likely to contribute to a reduction in the uneven balance of unemployment in this country?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that we are moving on to a slightly different question. As the noble Lord will know, aid from the Government to the regions since the present Administration came into office in 1979 has been absolutely massive. I believe I am right in saying that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is looking at the question of regional policy, but that is a matter for my right honourable friend.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, would the Minister agree that, as regards the figures that have been quoted today, the biggest single tragedy occurs at the top end of the age scale, where there are becoming unemployed an increasing number of people who may never work again? If further resources are to be made available, will the noble Lord use his good offices within Her Majesty's Government to consider allocating some of those resources to that group in order to make their permanent unemployment more bearable?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord will, of course, be aware that on 30th July my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced that there would be a doubling of numbers for adult training. This should go some way towards trying to cope with the very difficult problem which the noble Lord has outlined.