HL Deb 18 June 1996 vol 573 cc155-8

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to deal with the continuing problem of long-term male unemployment.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, we are continuing to pursue the economic and labour market policies which have seen long-term male unemployment fall by almost 230,000 since the beginning of 1994. We have in place a wide range of measures to help long-term unemployed people to compete effectively for jobs, and long-term unemployment has fallen faster than unemployment overall in recent years.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is he not aware that in the past three months 225,000 jobs have disappeared and that more than twice as many men as women were made redundant? Is the noble Lord also aware that the overall figure for male unemployment is 10.5 per cent., and that it is much higher in certain areas, especially in those where there was once heavy manufacturing industry? Is the Minister further aware that social problems can be involved in that imbalance?

Lord Henley

My Lords, obviously I am aware of the problems. That is why we devote a great deal of our energies within the Department for Education and Employment and through the Employment Service to the particular problems of the long-term unemployed. That is why most of our schemes are focused on the long-term unemployed. I can tell the noble Baroness that long-term unemployment is now a much smaller share of a smaller total. I think she should welcome that fact. The noble Baroness should also welcome the fact that the biggest improvements we have seen in long-term unemployment have been among the 18 to 24 year-olds and the 50 to 59 year-olds; that is to say, the youngest and the oldest. I believe that that highlights the success of our policies to focus on probably the most vulnerable groups of the long-term unemployed.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we welcome the falls in the unemployment figures? Indeed, anyone who has been on the dole would do so. However, is the noble Lord also aware that the figure for the workforce in employment has been falling? In the first four months of this year manufacturing industry shed 46,000 jobs. Therefore, our industrial base is still growing smaller, while the number of service industries is on the increase. Is the Minister further aware that three-quarters of the new jobs created in the service industries were part-time? Does not that trend concern Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am very grateful for the welcome given by the noble Lord to the fall in the unemployment figures and to the rise in employment. I have to say that, sometimes, it does not feel as though we are receiving a welcome from the noble Lord. However, if the noble Lord looks at the Labour Force Survey figures for the winter quarter, he will see that there has been a rise in employment; indeed, the figure has increased by some 309,000 and some 733,000 since the recovery began.

As regards the number of part-time jobs, I make no apologies for the fact that there are a reasonable number of them. The simple fact is that many people want part-time jobs. Only 14 per cent, of those surveyed who have part-time jobs are actually looking for full-time work. Part-time jobs meet the requirements of a great many people.

Baroness Gardner of Parks

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree with me that it is about time we changed our attitudes to work in this country? There are too many jobs which men believe to be beneath their dignity, whereas women are very willing to be flexible and look at whatever employment opportunities arise. I refer particularly to the service industries where, especially in London, no male waiter ever seems to be British. Is there not an opportunity for training and employment in all those fields?

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right to draw our attention to the importance of training. Although long-term unemployment has been falling for both men and women, my noble friend is also right to draw attention to the fact that the proportion of men has increased. I believe that my noble friend makes a very valid point when she points out that it is possible that some men will not deign to take on a number of jobs that traditionally have been held by women.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, are the Government aware that the unemployment figure is still over 2 million? If the Government will not adopt the sensible policies that were deployed by my noble friend Lord Callaghan when he was Prime Minister (under which unemployment never rose above 1.2 million), perhaps they would like to employ the policies espoused by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and when the unemployment figure did in fact come down to almost 1.3 million under this Conservative Government.

Lord Henley

My Lords, what the party opposite wants to do, as we all know—I remind the House for the umpteenth time—is to sign up to the social chapter and sign up to a minimum wage. We all know exactly what effect that would have on jobs. We would see unemployment rise very fast indeed.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend enlarge on his earlier replies and tell us what measures are under way in the areas of former mining employment, notably in Fife, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire among others?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not think I have time today to go into the detail of all the different Employment Service schemes to assist the unemployed. However, most of those schemes are designed to help particularly the long-term unemployed. That is why we have seen a fall in the proportion of long-term unemployed in relation to the total overall unemployed. As regards the figures for south Lanarkshire which my noble friend asked for, I should be more than delighted to send them to him.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the Government bear in mind that when it is the breadwinner of a family of three, four or five who loses his job that is a tremendous tragedy for that family? It is not just a question of unemployment; the tragedy of a breadwinner losing his job can affect an entire family. Will the Government take that into consideration?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I have made quite clear, I accept that long-term unemployment is higher among men than among women. That might have the effect that the noble Lord points out, but I do not think it would be right to target the various schemes of the Employment Service in such a way as to bring in quotas or the sort of things that the party opposite would bring in. But we will do what we can to assist all long-term unemployed, which is why we shall continue to see the total number of unemployed fall.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that his noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes raised an interesting point about male and female employment? Will he confirm that there are 1,600,000 men out of work as opposed to 500,000 women out of work, and the rate is two-and-a-half times greater for men than for women? Does he recall that a reply to this House only the other day revealed that in the Department of Social Security only 33 per cent. of employees were male as against 67 per cent. who were female? Is there something in those figures which might encourage the Government to investigate employment policies not only in the Department of Social Security but in all departments of state?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not think it is necessary to investigate the employment policies of all government departments, but I can confirm that the figures the noble Lord gave in relation to unemployment are broadly correct.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, is the Minister prepared to comment on the fact that people working, for example, in rail catering services are now being expected to work for less than £1 an hour? Is the Minister not aware that labourers ought to be worthy of their hire, and that this Government are seeking to ensure that even those employers making vast profits are able to force pay rates down to a despicable level?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I accept that the labourer is worthy of his hire and I reject the allegations made by the noble Baroness. I remind her that, broadly speaking, for manufacturing the take-home pay of a British worker is much the same as that of a German worker. The simple fact is, however, that the British worker costs a lot less to employ because the non-wage costs are kept down by this Government, unlike the policies that would be pursued by the party opposite.

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