asked the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he has taken to identify the extent of voluntary unemployment; and what is his latest estimate of the numbers involved.
The application of rules about the unemployed accepting suitable jobs has been under review and I am awaiting the views of the Manpower Services Commission. The work of DHSS unemployment review officers has continued on the greater scale already announced. As I explained to my hon. Friend on 4 December, I do not have an estimate of the extent to which there are people on the unemployment register who may be described as voluntarily unemployed.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful reply. Is he aware that about 750,000 vacancies are still unfilled? Will he accept that employers throughout the country are having difficulty in obtaining staff? Does he agree that a great many people are caught in the unemployment trap and simply cannot afford to work? What steps do the Government intend to take?
The unemployment trap is a matter for the DHSS, which is reviewing the problem. If we are told of specific cases of unfilled vacancies we shall be pleased to consider them. It is a complex issue. Frequently, it is a problem of a mismatch of skills. The matters that employers raise are not quite so simple when looked at in detail. I have investigated many cases and I could give chapter and verse on the problem. I do not want to minimise the fact that it is a serious situation when vacancies are notified but people remain unemployed. We hope to announce proposals to deal with the problem in the near future.
Bearing in mind that the country is in a serious situation because of Government policies, will the Minister give thought to the Government Front Bench opting for voluntary unemployment?