§ 15. Mr. Nellist
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the current numbers of people unemployed; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Tom King
On April 1985 the total number of unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom was 3,273,000. The estimate for the same month in 1979 was 1,261,000.
§ Mr. Blair
Do not those record jobless figures make a mockery of the Government's claim that the economy is recovering? Is the Minister aware that youth unemployment in parts of my constituency is now over 50 per cent.? When will he realise that words about caring, without action to back them up, merely add the insult of insincerity to the injury of mass unemployment?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman will note that the figures appear the very day after the best forecast from the CBI for many years. There is a startling improvement in 613 optimism in industry, an indication that the loss of jobs in manufacturing may be coming to an end, and there are encouraging figures for the creation of new jobs. We still face very real difficulties, especially in areas such as that represented by the hon. Gentleman. However, we need to see both the employment and the unemployment figures in perspective.
§ Mr. Nellist
Does the Secretary of State not realise that we cannot feed unemployed families on forecasts? They need money from a job. As the figures which the Secretary of State has announced today show a trebling of unemployment during the past six years, does he still hold to the assertion that we are in the fifth successive year of economic growth? What effect on the long-term unemployed does he expect from the proposal to abolish the wages councils? How does lowering the wages of women and youths in hairdressing and other retail trades—wages of £60 or £70 a week—help the nearly 5 million people who cannot get a job in this country?
§ Mr. King
On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman will have heard the exchanges and will know that there is general agreement that abolition or reform of wages councils could lead to the creation of a significant number of new jobs. The issue that must be decided is whether that is an appropriate way to proceed, which is why we are holding consultations on that matter.
Growth is the vital component if we are to make a real impact on the level of unemployment. I welcome the current forecast that this year we shall have the fastest growth rate in employment of any country in western Europe. In addition, we now have more investment in manufacturing industry as well as in service industries. Obviously, that needs to proceed faster if there is to be a real impact on employment.
§ Mr. Adley
While accepting that the sneers of the Opposition at the number of new jobs being created are inevitable and predictable, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend has noted that they appear to be running a campaign implying that part-time employment is not only undesirable but anti-social? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in a modern family, part-time jobs fulfil many people's aspirations? Will he do his best to ensure that, at least in his Department, part-time employment is regarded as a thoroughly proper, sensible and normal attribution of the figures and the information that he provides to the House?
§ Mr. King
I certainly accept my hon. Friend's comment. It is true that there have been 600,000 more jobs during the past two years, a significant number of which are part-time. However, that conceals and overlooks the fact that there has also been a substantial increase in self-employment. It is clear that there has been an increase in full-time jobs for men as well as for women.
§ Mr. Wilson
How does the Secretary of State explain the April unemployment figures running at record levels and in defiance of seasonal trends? Does he not know that 40 years after the ending of the second world war, certainly for most people in Scotland, it would be far better if the initials VE stood for victory in employment rather than victory in Europe?
§ Mr. King
I do not think that there is one hon. Member who does not wish to see a significant improvement in the unemployment problem at the earliest possible moment. 614 We are doing better in that respect than, for example, the Socialist Governments of France and Italy, and I hear that in mind when I hear the easy solutions put forward by the Opposition. I accept that we must do better. All our efforts and some of the changes announced in the Budget are directed precisely towards trying to improve the position.
§ Mr. Holt
Does my right hon. Friend realise that last week there were 1,000 advertised vacancies in the Thames Valley jobcentre, yet in my constituency there were only 18? What is he doing to improve the flow of information between jobcentres throughout the country, and then to assist people to relocate?
§ Mr. King
I recognise that there are undoubtedly parts of the country where the greatest problems now are skill shortages and the number of vacancies, whereas in other parts, such as my hon. Friend's constituency, the position is far from that. We are taking steps to improve the information flow so that people have the best opportunity of going where there is employment. However, we obviously want to see an improvement in employment throughout the country, which is the real solution to the problem.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 25 per cent. of those unemployed in Coatbridge, in my constituency, have been without work for two or more years and are desperately seeking jobs? Will he discourage his colleagues from referring to the "Why work?" syndrome and accept that that phrase is grossly offensive and adds insult to injury?
§ Mr. King
That is apposite to what I said when replying to the supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), that there are considerable variations in the employment situation in different parts of the country. It is fair to point out that the greatest number of long-term unemployed in Britain are in London and the south-east. That raises problems, bearing in mind the number of vacancies that exist in the area, about whether there are real disincentives to work involved in the "Why work?" syndrome.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim
Will my right hon. Friend remind Opposition Members of the increase in the number of people of working age in the last five years and the significant contribution that that increase has made to the unemployment problem?
§ Mr. King
My hon. Friend is correct to cite that point. Something under 1 million has been the increase in the population of working age. It is clear from the figures that in the last year alone the increase in the labour force was 480,000. We created about 340,000 more jobs, but because the figure for the increase in working population was greater, we continued to have the rise in unemployment.
§ Mr. Janner
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) was not how many claimants there were for unemployment benefit but how many people were unemployed? When will the right hon. Gentleman admit that there are about 4 million people now looking for jobs?
§ Mr. King
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows—because we have discussed this subject in another forum—that the latest academic study of which l am aware demonstrates that one can, on a perfectly sound 615 basis, argue that the present level of unemployment is between 1.7 million and 4.1 million, depending on what assumptions one uses. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that unemployment is too high, he need not waste his breath, because I agree with him, and all our efforts are directed towards its reduction.
§ Mr. Spencer
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in 1979 we inherited rampant inflation and rampant trade unionism, that only by conquering those twin evils have we created an additional 600,000 jobs and that if we were to surrender to those evils, as the Labour party would wish, the results would be disastrous for employment?
§ Mr. King
Successive industries during the 1960s and 1970s completely lost their competitive edge because they were over-manned and unable to compete in world markets. It has been a major challenge to fight back from that situation. The latest forecast—I make no apology for quoting again the CBI survey—is the most optimistic for a decade in many important respects.
§ Mr. Prescott
In the pursuit of truth, will the Minister recognise that the figure that he has announced from the Dispatch Box is the highest recorded level of unemployment for 40 years, and even for this century? Does he accept the estimate made by the unemployment unit under Professor Sinfield, that the figures, because of the new way in which they are collated, underestimate the real total by 400,000? In view of the massive unemployment that six years of Tory policies have created, will the right hon. Gentleman consider joining the Secretary of State for Energy in asking for a change in Government policies?
§ Mr. King
My answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, dealing with the figures, is the same as that which I gave to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner)—[Interruption.]—in deciding whether they should or should not be plus 400,000. Far more important than arguing about the precise statistic is to accept that it is too high.