HL Deb 02 February 1995 vol 560 cc1581-3

Lord Dormand of Easingtonasked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the total number of long-term unemployed at the latest available date.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the latest available figures show that in October 1994 there were 956,475 claimants who had been unemployed for more than one year. That is a fall of 11 per cent. compared with 12 months earlier.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is it not incredible that after 16 years of Conservative government almost 1 million people have been out of work for more than 12 months? Indeed, many of those people have been out of work for more than two years. The number is three times that when the Government came into power. As long-term unemployment is a significant economic indicator, is it not obvious that the measures which the Government have in place are inadequate to meet a terrible problem?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord is right in saying that long-term unemployment—indeed, all unemployment—is a scourge. We wish to see it reduced. However, in the real world we must address the problem with the mechanisms that we believe will bring about that reduction. We believe that the appropriate way to tackle the problem of long-term unemployment is to introduce structural changes into the labour market; in particular, to introduce flexibility and to set up a system which encourages people to take on labour and to create jobs. We must parallel that general thrust and focus our efforts on helping the unemployed to try to gain work. During this financial year it is the target of the employment service to put more than 500,000 long-term unemployed people into work, and it is currently on target to do that.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, does an increase in interest rates help the Government to meet their target?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, it is essential that inflation is kept under control in order to provide the necessary pre-condition for job creation. If, as part of the fight against inflation, it is necessary to put up interest rates by 0.5 per cent. that is a painful but nonetheless necessary step that we must take and have taken.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister aware of a recent study by Bristol University which shows that most unemployed people in older age groups are in the older industrial districts, which have suffered most as a result of manufacturing decline? Is it a fact that such individuals are least likely to benefit from the so-called flexibility of employment to which the Minister has drawn attention?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, we are aware of the problems to which the noble Baroness refers. However, it is relevant to note that the amount of long-term unemployment in this country is substantially less than the average throughout the European Union. It follows, therefore, that the measures that we are introducing address the problems.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, says that after 16 years of Conservative government the unemployment figure is terrible. Is it true that all Labour governments have ended up with unemployment higher than when they started? Is it also true that the unemployment figure is reducing by approximately 1,000 per day? Furthermore, what are the prospects for my own area of Cleveland, where unemployment has always been high?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, my noble friend is right; no Labour government have ever left office with unemployment at a level lower than when they took office. Unemployment is falling in all sectors right across the country and at a rate of 1,000 per day. The new Samsung developments are to take place in Cleveland, my noble friend's area. It is anticipated that they will directly provide 5,000 new jobs.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the real world of the unhappy unemployed is miserable? Are the Government prepared to consider that unemployment can differ from region to region and that possibly public works can be embarked upon that will be to everyone's advantage and will provide employment? Unemployed people would much prefer to earn wages and salaries rather than collect unemployment benefit.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, we realise that unemployment has appalling human consequences. However, we do not believe that indiscriminate public works are the answer to the problem. They will merely postpone and subsequently exacerbate the problem we are trying to tackle.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, will my noble friend hazard a guess as to the rate of unemployment if we joined up to the social chapter, on which the party opposite is so keen?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am not in a position to quantify the increase. However, I can say without equivocation that we believe that the number of unemployed would be substantially higher.

Lord Desai

My Lords, the Minister says that every Labour government have left office with a higher rate of unemployment than when they started. Will he complement that answer by saying that that is also true of Conservative governments in the post-war period?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord has a greater knowledge than I of some aspects of the achievements of Conservative governments in the post-war period. I am not in a position to dispute his point.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the country in western Europe with probably the most consistent record in this field—Switzerland—has the lowest level of government intervention in its economy and, indeed, probably the lowest level of government in western Europe?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am not in a position to substantiate my noble friend's claim, but I have no doubt that he is right.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a question on the new jobseeker's application form asks, "What is the lowest amount for which you are prepared to work?"? Is that an essential part of the strategy of getting the unemployed back to work and what weight will be given to the answer?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, as regards the changes proposed in the Jobseekers Bill, it is intended to focus on getting those out of work back into work. People must be reasonably available for work and an unwillingness to do anything other than that which is the most highly paid does not meet that test.

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