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Unemployed Persons

Volume 949: debated on Tuesday 2 May 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest total of registered unemployed.


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


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


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.

At 13th April, 1,387,484 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain.

While the seasonally adjusted level of unemployment has fallen for the seventh successive month, the prospects for a major improvement depend in large part on international co-operation on economic growth. The recent Budget measures show the Government's willingness to aid concerted international economic expansion. At home, the special employment measures are playing an important part in keeping down the unemployment level.

Instead of hiding the true unemployment figure of nearly 2 million with "phoney" job creation schemes, why do not the Government abandon their Socialist policies of job destruction and provide the real incentives which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has again failed to provide, so that we can have some jobs created?

There is nothing "phoney" about measures that we introduce which enable people to provide services in this country and to do useful constructive work, as opposed to drawing unemployment benefit.

As for the Budget measures, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be among the first to appreciate that an increase in purchasing power of about £2·5 billion would stimulate some activity, leading to employment. The direct Government expenditure in construction and in the National Health Service arising from the Budget will certainly feed into additional employment.

Will not the Minister confirm that his listening, together with his colleagues, to the cries from the Opposition about curbing the money supply and cutting back the public sector borrowing requirement, and having cuts in social services and so on, resulted in a large part of the unemployment total? In order to get out of this position, does he agree that he should now turn his attention to restoring those cuts in public spending and to reducing the number of hours that people have to work? As Socialists, my right hon. Friend and his colleagues should be planning the dole queue out of existence and not listening to the Opposition.

One of the major factors in the limitation of public expenditure, as I recall it, was the decision that arose from listening not to Opposition Members but to the International Monetary Fund.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the Manpower Services Commission can comply with the obligation imposed on it to offer a job opportunity to each young person leaving school between now and next Easter?

That obligation, which we have laid upon the Manpower Services Commission, requires an extremely ambitious programme to be developed very quickly indeed. It is my belief that, given the co-operation of trade unions, employers, local authorities, and a number of other bodies which have a very important contribution to make, we can achieve that aim and in doing so play a major part in reducing the problem of youth unemployment.

Will the Minister use this opportunity to describe Cornwall's unemployment figures? Will he indicate what would be the effect in the area of Chacewater, in my constituency, of the closure of Wheal Jane mine? Will he by 12 noon tomorrow tell the Secretary of State for Industry how much it will cost the Department if that mine, in the final analysis, is not rescued?

I cannot give a detailed answer to that question without notice, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State for Industry works very closely with me in examining the employment effects of decisions which either he or I can implement by aid from our Departments.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the need for international co-operation. Will he recall that at the recent Heads of Government Summit there was discussion about programmes of work sharing? Is his Department engaged on any programmes in this area? If so, will he bring to the House any suggestions on this matter?

I have had discussions with the CBI and the TUC about ways in which work sharing might be brought about, including ways that might arise from a reduction in overtime working or a shortening of the working week. I very much hope that we shall have the co-operation of employers and unions in achieving changes along those lines.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is very deep and growing concern in the whole nation about the high and sustained level of unemployment? Is he aware that the policy of the Government has been optimistic, totally unjustified and totally ineffective in reducing unemployment? Is he further aware that, given the record of the Conservative Government on unemployment, compared with the present Government's record, the remarks of the Prime Minister at the weekend were contemptible, to say the least?

I can only imagine that the right hon. Gentleman has not studied the unemployment statistics over the past six months. There has not been a steady level of unemployment. There has been a falling level of unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman invites the House to make a comparison between the record of the Government and that of the last Conservative Government. It behoves him to recall that in 1971, 1972 and 1973 there were fewer people employed in this country than there are today.

But is it not a fact that for every day the Government have been in office, 600 people have joined the dole queues?

There have been considerable redundancies in this country. These have been offset as a direct result of actions taken by the Government. But anyone imagining that it is possible to run the economy of this country in a way which will totally avoid redundancies, on the basis of policies advocated by the Opposition, can in no way have examined objectively what is happening in our economy.

Has my right hon. Friend been able to make an estimate of the numbers of job opportunities which should be created by the aid given by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to small businesses?

No, we have not been able to make a precise calculation, because that depends very much on the uptake. But I hope that the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and those which I announced in March this year, will be used to the utmost by those concerned to bring down the levels of unemployment. It is the case now that we are not short of schemes to deal with unemployment, or of offers of aid, but we must make a more serious attempt to ensure that such measures as are available to reduce unemployment are used to the hilt.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were unemployed in the United Kingdom at the most recent count; and how this figure compares with the figure in the comparable month in 1974.

At 13th April 1978, 1,451,758 people were registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom, compared with 607,602 in April 1974.

In view of the fact that unemployment has more than doubled since this Government came into office, and since there was a big increase in unemployment under the last Labour Government, how can the Labour Party claim to care about unemployment?

The number of people in employment is now at a higher level than on average under the last Government. The factors which have led to the increase in unemployment—these are matters of very grave concern to government—take into account the vastly greater number of people now seeking work and the larger numbers leaving school. These are problems which have to be dealt with against the background of a world trading slump of enormous proportions.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that although the decrease this month is welcome, the unemployment level in the Northern Region is still far too high? Does he also agree that if, by any misfortune, the Conservative Party gets to power and does as it has promised—cuts out temporary employment subsidy, and gets rid of regional incentives—the level will be far worse?

I certainly agree that the unemployment level in the Northern Region is very worrying. The measures that we have introduced there are certainly none too ambitious. I hope that we shall see them used to the hilt. If some of the policies advocated by the Conservatives had been adopted, the situation would be totally intolerable.

What work is going on within the Department and within the Government to look at the long-term implications of microvalve work, greater technology, and so on, which is, of course, at the root of many of our unemployment problems?

I have taken individual responsibility for directing work on this matter. In the long term I think that the effect of much more capital-intensive processing in manufacturing industry will be a major factor which may reduce the number of people who can be employed in manufacturing in this country to possibly as few as 25 per cent. of our present working population. We are examining this in various areas. It is one of the factors that we are feeding into discussions at NEDC. It is also one of the factors that will help us analyse the effect of the sector working party reports.

Will not my right hon. Friend deplore with me the partisan attitude that has been adopted by the Conservative Opposition on this serious problem of unemployment, which is an international problem where international and national attitudes should be adopted?

It is not unknown for partisan attitudes to be adopted in various parts of the House. But those who wish to criticise adversely measures adopted to deal with unemployment are under some obligation to propose measures which they think will be more effective. It is certainly the case that this is an international problem. On standards of reliable international comparison, this country is tackling the problem much more successfully than are many others.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give in the Official Report a breakdown of the March estimate in the Department of Employment Gazette showing that unemployment could be reduced by 600,000 at a cost of £1,000 million by reducing the pension age of men to 60 years.

Yes, Sir. I am arranging to publish in the Official Report details of the estimates and the assumptions on which they are based.

Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that we are in a very dangerous employment position, with an estimated increase in the potential labour force of about 1 million in the next seven years and in the same period probably the loss of the equivalent of 1 million jobs due to advancing technology if we are to see the sort of national growth that we all hope to see? In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend feel that there is now urgency to move towards earlier retirement, as this has a considerable contribution to make?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's long-standing concern about this problem. Indeed, I read his interesting article about in in Labour Weekly at the weekend. As my right hon. Friend has already said, however, he has been having discussions with both the CBI and the TUC on work-sharing measures generally. Obviously, early retirement must figure in discussions of that sort. But, however socially desirable it is to do that—and indeed. I accept the kind of analysis that my hon. Friend has broadly made—inevitably it would add very substantially to net costs at present.

In view of the Government's poor record of forecasting future trends in employment, what steps has the Department taken to improve its forecasting techniques, and how far ahead does it now feel that it can predict levels of employment with confidence?

I think that our forecasting has been quite accurate in the past. Indeed, I think that the forecasts that we have given for at least the next five years are all on the record and they can be tested in due course. However, we have already made it clear that we can expect the net increase in the labour force to be about 170,000 a year for probably the next four or five years.

Following is the information:

The March Department of Employment Gazette gave estimates of the employment and financial effects of lowering the national insurance retirement age for men to 60, derived as follows.
There are 1·4 million men aged 60–64; over 1 million in employment, about 130,000 registered as unemployed. If the same proportion of the economically active retired at 60 as at present retires at 65, after adjustment to the new retirement age fewer than 450,000 would still be working, the majority working part-time.
This would release 750,000 full-time jobs. Assuming a replacement rate of 75 per cent., with 80 per cent. of the replacements coming from the unemployment register, 450,000 of the registered unemployed would find work. Assuming also that almost all the unemployed aged over 60 retired, the unemployed register would fall by nearly 600,000. The costs would be:
Pensions*: over £1,800 million.
+Loss of income tax and national insurance revenue (net): over £300 million.
-Savings in unemployment benefit and social security payments (net): nearly £1,000 million.
Net cost: nearly £1,200 million per year.
* At present pension levels, assuming the deferment age limit was lowered by five years.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further action is proposed to reduce the number of working people who are unemployed.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he intends to introduce to reduce unemployment.

I announced in the House on 15th March details of the expanded programme of special employment and training measures with which we shall be seeking to mitigate the effects of high unemployment over the coming year. The special measures are still developing. We shall keep under review their scope and effectiveness and shall continue to provide special support for job and training opportunities so long as unemployment remains high. At the international level, the Government are engaged in discussions on a concerted strategy to stimulate economic growth.

I recognise the good work that the Government have done, but will my right hon. Friend encourage his Cabinet colleagues to make the reduction of unemployment the Government's main priority in the months ahead, as it is causing deep anxiety to young people leaving school who go straight on to the dole queue?

I shall give my hon. Friend that undertaking, not merely because of the anxiety that unemployment is causing young people but because I believe that it is the only way, in the long run, of enabling all people who wish to work to provide the goods and services that will enable he and I to achieve the social objectives for which we have campaigned.

In view of the demands of the micro-electronic revolution and of the need, which presumably the Government accept, to improve productivity to the best international standards, is it not clear that further and drastic measures will be necessary to alleviate unemployment in the next 10 years or more?

We shall need to have a dynamic manpower policy to cope with the new phase of the technological revolution. That means that we have to find ways of enabling more people to work in service industries in relation to those who work in manufacturing industry. That means findings ways of transferring some of the wealth that is being created by modern capital-intensive manufacturing industry into an effective demand for services.

Bearing in mind my right hon. Friend's earlier replies about technology and industrial change, does he agree that it is imperative that the Government begin to examine a strategy including continued education, training and work experience for young people, paid education and training leave for those in employment and the possibility of early retirement and work sharing, as well as the other measures that he mentioned?

I accept that all those factors have a part to play, but that is especially so of training measures for young people. A changing manpower situation will mean a requirement for many people to retrain to obtain employment and, therefore, a far greater flexibility of approach.

Is not the best way of transferring the wealth created by capital-intensive industries into a demand for services a reduction in direct taxation?

No, not at all. One area that I believe has a major part to play is that of public services. If direct taxation contributes to improving hospital and school services and other public services, it will contribute to greater employment in those areas.