HL Deb 20 October 1992 vol 539 cc635-8

3 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What were the total numbers of long-term unemployed in May 1979 and in the most recent month for which figures are available.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, in the United Kingdom in July 1992 there were 905,255 persons claiming unemployment-related benefits who had been unemployed for over a year, a fall of 145,232 since July 1983, the earliest date for which the nearest equivalent figures are available.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that of all the indicators demonstrating the bankruptcy of the Government's economic policies, none has greater significance than that of long-term unemployment? The figures given today are a disgrace in a modern society. Despite the information that he has just given, will the Minister confirm that 70,000 people have been added to the ranks of the long-term unemployed in the past four months? Is that not a record high for such a period? In the face of such a tragedy, is the Government's policy to remain zero inflation and zero jobs?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Lord is wrong, because the range of measures which the employment service and the TECs have provided for the six-month plus unemployed is having a good effect. If we look back to 1983—the last time that unemployment was at the current level—the long-term unemployed (one-year plus) made up over 42 per cent. of that total, and that proportion is now down to one-third.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, can we he assured that the training package for redundant miners announced yesterday amounting to £75 million—many of those miners being candidates to join the long-term unemployed—will he financed wholly by new money, and that no part of that training package will be financed by the Department of Employment's existing budget?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, my understanding is that the new package of help for the TECs and the employment service is worth some £75 million over this year and next. That will guarantee the full assessment of help needed for unemployed people in those closure areas. Priority access to employment training, support in setting up their own businesses, job clubs and job interview guarantees will be available to people in those areas. TECs will be drawing up their action plans over the next month.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in these slump conditions—the worst since the 1930s—what is most disturbing is the loss of jobs in manufacturing industry? We are losing 3,500 every week. We are now down to a figure of 4.4 million people employed in manufacturing industry. As a consequence, we are now importing more manufactured goods than we are exporting. Are not the Government worried about that? What are they going to do to reverse that trend?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the figures are conflicting, because the figures that I have do not suggest what the noble Lord has said. As I have said a number of times from this Box, falling manufacturing employment as a share of total employment is a common trend in all industrial countries. The UK share of world trade in manufactures is estimated to have risen in the three years to 1991 after decades of decline. The share of manufacturing in GDP has remained at about 24 per cent. of GDP for the past 10 years.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that from all parts of the House we shall chivy the Government into encouraging in every possible way the retraining, redeploying and giving of jobs to people? It is not right to compare conditions in 1933 with those today. For obvious reasons manufacturing output per head is very much higher than it was. Is my noble friend aware that in 1933 22 per cent. of this country's insured workforce was out of work, whereas now it is only 10 per cent., and that 6 per cent. of the total population was out of work in 1933, whereas it is now only 3 per cent.? That does not take account of the huge increase in female employment over that of 60 years ago.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I would not question my noble friend's figures. He could have gone on to say that the total United Kingdom workforce in employment now stands at nearly 25.5 million; and that at 70 per cent. the United Kingdom continues to have a much higher proportion of people in work than any EC country apart from Denmark?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the Minister please answer my noble friend's simple question? Is the £75 million that is to be spread over two years new money? Is it extra to budget?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, so far as I am aware, yes.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, what proposals do the Government have for dealing with the increase in youth unemployment, particularly in view of the failure to provide a youth training place for all young people in the appropriate age group?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I question the assumption made by the noble Baroness. The YT guarantee still stands. That means that young people who leave school—of course, they are being encouraged to stay at school—have the guarantee of a YT place until they are 18.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some forecasts indicate that long-term unemployment is likely to increase for at least two years, and that much of that unemployment will be among people who are already skilled? Although we welcome training programmes, I should like to ask what good will they do to people who are already skilled and who still cannot find employment?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. While training has a key role to play in providing the skills essential for business success and enhancing the prospects of people at work, I agree that it is not always the most appropriate way of meeting the needs of unemployed people. That is why we have such a range of other measures from the employment service and the TECs to help people find jobs.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many people in this country strongly support the Government's training programmes, and that it is the continual change in information technology and technology which needs constant training and "uptraining"? The fact that people have already been trained is irrelevant to the needs of industry tomorrow and the day after.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I entirely endorse my noble friend's words.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am grateful—I mean this—that he has not used the words, "There are now signs that the economy is recovering"? Is there any truth in the statements reported recently in some newspapers that cuts are to be made in some of the measures which apply to the long-term unemployed?

Viscount Ullswater

No, my Lords. I do not believe that is right. It is important that the work of our department concentrates on those people who have not been able to find work after six months. It is true that two-thirds of those who become unemployed find employment within six months. Therefore our work concentrates on those who have not found employment within that time.