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Labour Statistics

Volume 80: debated on Tuesday 11 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will arrange for equal prominence to be given by his Department in the publication of numbers of people employed at the same time as the release of statistics showing the numbers unemployed.

We seek to give equal emphasis to employment as well as to unemployment, since clearly both statistical series are important to obtain a clear perspective of what is happening in the labour market. The figures are released at different times in the month as soon as they are available.

I share the concern that is felt by all hon. Members about unemployment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we were to succeed in securing wider publicity about the number of people employed that would not only recognise the steps that the Government have already taken to create more jobs, but offer some hope in an otherwise rather depressing scene for those who are still unemployed?

I understand my hon. Friend's question. I have been seeking to emphasise that point. Hon. Members know that during the past 18 months there has been a rapid increase in the working population. That has made the task not only of providing more jobs but of reducing unemployment more demanding.

In view of those bullish remarks, does the Secretary of State think that by the time of the next general election there might be a return to the same number of people in employment as there were when the Labour Government left office? If that is too optimistic, does he think that there might be a return to within 1 million of that figure?

The challenge that is being faced not only in this country but in every other country of the Western world is very tough. I have never concealed that fact and I have never sought to put forecasts before the House. I take encouragement from the rapid increase in the number of new jobs being created and from the fact that the most recent forecast of the Confederation of British Industry is the most optimistic for many years. I hope that at last there will be the scale of improvement that every hon. Member wishes to see.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are parts of the country—for example, not far from my own—where the number of jobs available is much greater than the number of people applying for them? Does he also agree that one of the disincentives to people seeking employment in those areas is that it is too easy, for young people in particular, to move into employment which is some kind of cul-de-sac? Can he give an assurance that he is taking that point on board?

There is no doubt that the overall figures show a considerable improvement in the number of vacancies, but I am the first to accept that they are not evenly distributed around the country. In many areas there are frequent complants about skill shortages and the difficulty of getting labour for jobs, but that at least shows that there is an improvement. We hope that the improvement in the economy will help to reinforce it.

Since the right hon. Gentleman is so interested in the employment figures as opposed to the unemployment figures, will he now answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and say what were the employment figures in 1979 and what are the employment figures now.

The figures are known to the House. There is a later question on this subject. Between 1979 and March 1983 there was a net fall of about 1.8 million in the employed labour force. Since March 1983 there has been an increase of about 600,000 in the employed labour force.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Liverpool research group estimates that the black economy is now worth about £45 million a year? Does he think that people registered as unemployed are contributing towards that vast sum? If so, what can be done about it?

I am under no illusions. It is a substantial figure. The chairman of the Inland Revenue has on occasions tried to make an estimate of the scale of the black economy. I have no doubt that it is substantial and that some unemployed people are taking advantage of the situation. However, I am well aware that there are many parts of the country with substantial problems of unemployment which are not met by explanations of that kind.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the figures would be more realistic and would give us a better ability to interpret the situation if they included whole-time equivalents?

There is obviously something in that. I have made it clear that there are a number of part-time jobs. However, some hon. Members have an illusion that the increase in the employed labour force, to which I have referred, is entirely part-time. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is an increase in full-time male employment, in full-time female employment, in self-employment and in part-time employment.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is growing interest in the employment figures, for two reasons: first, because the CBI has forecast that by the end of this year there will be 1 million more people in work than there were at the last general election; and, secondly, because of the embarrassment that that will cause to the alliance parties, which, in their manifesto at the last election, said that the biggest increase that could be expected over the same period would be far less than one million jobs — about 650,000 — if their policies were pursued?

I do not know how much of an embarrassment it would be. I suppose it would depend on how many people actually read their manifesto. I was not aware of the point as stated by my hon. Friend, but I note what he says. Certainly there is considerable optimism about the creation of more jobs. I do not conceal from the House the challenge that we have to face, with the substantial increase in the working population. We may be meeting that challenge better than other countries in Europe, but not well enough to achieve a real reduction in unemployment.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the numbers of people who have been unemployed for over 12 months; and what this is as a percentage of those registered unemployed.

On 11 April 1985, the latest date for which figures are available, the number of claimants in the United Kingdom who had been unemployed for over 12 months was 1,334,000–41 per cent. of the total.

Does the Minister recollect that in April 1980, 334,000 people, or 23 per cent. of the total, had been unemployed for more than 52 weeks? Is he aware that eminently respectable people, such as Hywel Jones, director of the Henley Centre for Forecasting, have estimated that unemployment will continue to rise year by year until the end of the century? Will the hon. Gentleman look at the facts of the case rather than at dogmatism and produce a policy for employment?

The hon. Gentleman should recall that at the time to which he refers the community enterprise programme was in existence and had 30,000 places. Since then, under the community programme for the long-term unemployed, that has been expanded to 130,000 places. Now, with the Chancellor's announcement in the Budget, it has been increased to 230,000 places. That is a practical example of what the Government are doing and how we care for the long-term unemployed.

As the most notable aspect of the plight of the long-term unemployed is their lack of any formal or educational qualifications, will my hon. Friend pay close attention in any extension of the community programme to the training content of the programme and the prospects for remedial education?

That is precisely what we are doing. As my hon. Friend is probably aware, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced that about 50,000 places in the programme will have a training element.

Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister's weekend statement that there will still be about 3 million people unemployed at the time of the next general election? Do not the figures mean that the overwhelming majority of over-50s who are currently classified as long-term unemployed have no reasonable chance of a full-time job so long as the Conservatives remain in office?

The hon. Gentleman has probably seen the outturn statistics for the community programme.

The hon. Lady is right to ask. They show that one in three get a job and that their opportunity of getting a job is greatly enhanced as a result of the community programme, which, as I explained, has been expanded substantially by the Chancellor's Budget proposals.

The Minister has told us that there are now 1,200,000 fewer people employed than there were in 1979. How many of those who have been unemployed for more than 12 months are young people who, training schemes apart, have never had a job?

I cannot cite the precise statistics. The hon. Gentleman has rightly put his finger on a key area. Many of the 21 to 24-year olds did not have the opportunity offered by a youth training scheme. If the last Labour Government had bitten the bullet in 1978, those people would have had that opportunity. Because of that lack of action, their position has been made rather more difficult.