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Unemployed Persons

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 3 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest unemployment figures; and what is the trend revealed by these.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest unemployment figures; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the present level of unemployment.

At 14th April, 1,335,635 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. The seasonally adjusted figure is 1,269,200. These figures are provisional. Although the total number of adult unemployed has fallen by 11,506 since the last count, after seasonal factors have been taken into account the unemployment level has increased by 1,100. It has now been nearly static over the last seven months. It is, of course, still far too high.

How does the right hon. Gentleman see the longer-term trend in unemployment, bearing in mind the number of school leavers who will be seeking jobs in three months' time? Does he see unemployment rising to a figure of, say, 2 million? How can the trend be reversed without massive investment in the manufacturing of new products for which industry needs higher confidence and lower inflation than at present?

On the current discernible trends, increases in manufacturing output will not be sufficient to offset the increase in the numbers who will be seeking work, not only among school leavers but among additional numbers of women. The straight answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that the trend will not be reversed to the extent that the whole House would wish unless there is much more manufacturing investment. That is why my right hon. Friends and I attach so much importance to the development of the industrial strategy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these shameful and continually high figures are costing about £75 million a week when one takes into account redundancy payments, unemployment and other benefits and loss of tax? Does he not agree with many people not only in the House but outside that the arithmetic of the Budget strategy is totally wrong, and that instead of shedding crocodile tears he should get along to the Treasury and tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is time to adopt an alternative strategy and to reflate the economy?

I accept that there is a high public expenditure element in the present level of unemployment and that it is not confined to unemployment benefit. I do not believe that the Budget strategy alone can contribute much to improving the employment position by reflating the economy. The scope for that is limited and is probably within the present Budget considerations that will be before the House in the Finance Bill.

It is no good having a substantial increase in demand until we can increase capacity to satisfy it. The Budget strategy has to be seen in the context of what we are able to do to support investment and increase output generally.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, since the unemployment percentage and the ratio of unemployment to vacancies have consistently been far worse in Lancaster than in Hull and Grimsby, the time is now ripe to elevate Lancaster to development area status?

I shall look carefully at the relative status of various areas for development, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has done recently. Without a general upturn in the economy, there will not be large numbers of foot-loose industries looking for sites. The flexible powers that the Government possess and are taking to assist areas are a better way of dealing with problems such as those faced by Lancaster.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is considerable excess capacity in British industry and that the unemployment in Britain, Western Europe, America and Japan is an indictment of the capitalist system and that only real Socialist interventionist policies can begin to deal with this serious problem?

Interventionist policies are necessary, and we need international cooperation to overcome some dimensions of the problem. However, if we are to see the problem of inflation attacked simultaneously with the problem of unemployment, we must go for a greater use of existing capacity. Running industry at well below full capacity results in higher unit costs. If we could get up to 99·9 per cent. use of capacity, we could reduce costs as well as improve the employment situation.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the Welsh unemployment figures are much higher than the national average? What plans has he to give a boost to the Welsh economy in the near future?

I accept that the Welsh figures are a cause for serious concern and are higher than the national average. That is why one of the two changes in development area status affected an area of Wales. The greater flexibility of the job measures, including those that we shall have to consider as a result of the Holland Committee's report, can be particularly significant in Wales.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that employment will not come down until he makes it worth while for employers to employ people? Will he look at the position of apprentices? Is it not time that the Government put apprentices on an equal basis with students so that those who employ and train them should receive grants equivalent to those enjoyed in the case of students?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that employers do not usually employ people unless they consider it to be worth while. In present circumstances, the Government judge it right to assist employers to employ people. That is one of the major purposes behind the temporary employment subsidy and one of the reasons why we are supporting employers who are taking on thousands of apprentices and receiving the advantage of Government grants for the first year of training. We shall continue to do that, and we have recently announced that in special development areas we shall pay direct grants to small employers to increase employment in manufacturing industry.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that in these and previous figures the proportion of unemployment among the under-25s has been rising steadily and that, given the size of the age groups coming on to the market in the next few years, we have a structural problem of youth unemployment that requires long-term measures to deal with it?

That is certainly the case. We have tended to measure youth unemployment by the number of unemployed school leavers and we have addressed many special measures precisely to that area. Their great success is shown in the drop from 199,000 unemployed school leavers in July to 31,000 in March. These figures bear testimony to the success of the measures. My hon. Friend has clearly reflected the concern of the House at the fact that there is youth unemployment well above school leaver level, and we shall be addressing ourselves to the problem of the 16 to 18 age band when we consider the report and recommendations of the Manpower Services Commission in this area. I also agree that there is another dimension to the problem that can be measured by unemployment among those aged between 18 and 25.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has three jobs and gets paid for every one of them.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the new jobs that the country so desperately needs can come only from the private sector? Will he therefore pay no attention to the left wing of the Labour Party, which thinks only in terms of public expenditure and does so much to undermine the confidence of British industry on which future employment depends? Will the right hon. Gentleman continue with his policy of telling the left wing to belt up?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that those of my hon. Friends whom he describes as "left wing" are concerned about a number of elements in the private sector. They make regular representations to me about unemployment in the private sector in their constituences. I do not agree that the only way to deal with unemployment is to look to the private sector. There are significant services in the public sector which we should be seeking to improve. So far as we can do that consistent with our capacity to pay for these services, we must see that as one of the ways of dealing with unemployment.