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Youth Unemployment

Volume 22: debated on Thursday 22 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will undertake an examination of whether there is a link between youth unemployment and crime or other forms of anti-social activity.

The published evidence on the relationship between unemployment and crime is kept under review by the Department.

If, in the written reply that is due to me, the Home Secretary identifies an increase in indictable offences in the county of Cumbria, will the hon. and learned Gentleman then accept that there is a link in that county between unemployment and anti-social activity? Does he accept that the best way to reduce the rising crime rate is to provide work for the unemployed and to give direct Government support to the family?

My right hon. Friend's answer to the hon. Gentleman's written question is hypothetical. I do not know what will flow from that. However, my right hon. Friend has dealt with the relationship between unemployment and crime. Published research is like a bran tub—there is something in it for everybody. The true situation, looking back over the post-war growth in recorded crime, is that the increase started in the 1950s, when it was not related to an increase in unemployment; it continued into the 1960s, which was a period of relatively full employment; and in the 1970s the year-on-year increases in crime and unemployment were largely independent of each other.

Recognising what was said earlier about the factor of unemployment in the crime rate, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that countries that enjoy full employment—Switzerland is an outstanding example—also have an increasingly serious problem of crime committed by young persons?

I understand that that is so. It simply shows that the search for a single or simple cause of crime is fruitless. I am certain that, at all levels and in all sections of the community, we must find a way to restore respect for the values that obtained in this country when crime was at a much lower rate.

Why does the Minister not consult people who work in the youth service? They will tell him that there is a close association between rising crime and rising unemployment. Is he completely unaware of the disillusionment, bitterness and anger among young people about unemployment? Is the Minister further aware that the youth opportunities programme, in which the Government take a certain pride, is inadequate and that, unless the new youth training scheme produces jobs, that too, will be inadequate?

I am not responsible for the youth opportunities programme, although I have a great admiration for it. I am well aware of the anxieties, frustration and bitterness among young people who are confronted with unemployment, but I disagree that one can draw from that a causative link between unemployment and crime. Research does not support it. There are many better reasons for wanting to get a reduction in unemployment on a lasting basis than the contribution that that could make to law and order.

How does the Minister explain the massive increase in crime on Merseyside, bearing in mind that the figures issued yesterday show a 17 per cent. increase in crime over the first quarter of this year? There has been a 37 per cent. increase in the number of business premises burgled over the past month alone. Does the Minister agree that there are good grounds for reinstating the £500,000 that has been cut from the Merseyside police budget this year?

No link can be shown—and it is not for want of trying in many quarters—between local unemployment and local levels of crime. We must seek to re-establish those attitudes towards other people's rights—it is those rights that are damaged by crime—that used to obtain. That is widely understood as something in which the whole community is involved.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that the relationship between unemployment and crime is hardly a direct one or susceptible of proof, and that if one looks at the crime figures when unemployment reached a peak between the wars, one sees that they do not bear any comparison with the crime figures today? Therefore, it would seem that it is not to unemployment but to a general decline in discipline in society that we must look for the cause of crime.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that it is not possible to find a causative link between one and the other. As my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have frequently said, it has a bearing, but it is only one of many factors. I agree with the thrust of my hon. and learned Friend's question.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recall that in February 1978 his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary drew a clear causative link between unemployment under a Labour Government and crime and vandalism among young people? However, it does not seem to suit the Conservative Party now to draw that same link.

That question has been asked of my right hon. Friend, let alone of me, on many occasions and it has been faithfully dealt with. I do not propose to deal with it now.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall seek leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment.