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Unemployment And Health

Volume 82: debated on Monday 8 July 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales what studies are available to him of the relationship between unemployment and health; what consideration he has given to them; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend and I are aware that a number of studies have considered whether there might be any relationship between unemployment and health. All have shown how difficult it is to isolate the factors which contribute to the need for health care. We are committed to targeting health care resources in response to needs, no matter how those needs arise.

Is the Minister aware that at least 3,000 people have died because of unemployment, according to official data based on the 1971 census figures? Is he further aware that thousands more people have become chronically sick as a result of unemployment? How many more people have to die because of the Government's policies?

I repeat that there is no direct proven causal connection between unemployment and ill health. I remind the hon. Lady that when she last alleged that connection' in the Welsh Grand Committee in March, and I asked her for the material on which she based her view, she sent me an article from The Lancet, which simply reiterated what I have just said — that it is extremely difficult to prove any causal connection.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a close relationship between strike action, health and unemployment, in that many of the strikes that have been supported —

I was about to point out, Mr. Speaker, that strike action creates unemployment. Does not strike action in the Health Service lengthen the waiting lists for inpatients and outpatients? How did the strike action in 1981 affect those waiting lists?

There is no doubt, because the figures prove it, that the strike action in the Health Service to which my hon. Friend referred lengthened the waiting lists.

Do not all the reports on the valley towns show the deepening crisis and the social consequences — no doubt partly due to mass unemployment, but also to other factors? Rather than making such complacent replies, why do the Minister and his right hon. Friend not go to the Cabinet to try to obtain the additional resources needed to fight the consequences of their policies?

Of course there are reports from the valley towns, but, quite frankly, the reports to which the right hon. Gentleman referred and their conclusions are certainly not helped by, for example, strike action. There is a housing problem in the Cynon Valley, represented by the hon. Lady, but it was not improved by the coal strike.

Will the Minister tell us how many of those unemployed in the Health Service in Wales will be unemployed next year?

The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a tremendous increase in staffing in the NHS in Wales.

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman. There was a 15·6 per cent. increase in front-line staff in the NHS in Wales between 1979 and 1984.

On current pay awards, it is very much to be hoped that they can be contained within the increased allocations given to health authorities in Wales, with, perhaps, a certain amount more being saved by authorities.

The Minister would do well to read today's Western Mail, in which Mr. Rodger Dobson's compelling and disturbing article relates the link between unemployment and bad health. Does the Minister understand that the Sneddon family, and tens of thousands like them throughout Wales, desperately need the hope of work? Was not the brutal message from Brecon that the people of Wales want more work and an end to unemployment?

One of the messages of Brecon and Radnor was that the Labour party has little to crow about today. Of course we all want a decline in unemployment.