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Labour Statistics

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 15 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of unemployed; how many are women; and how many men.

On 8 October 1987 the number of unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom was 2,751,000 — a reduction of almost 500,000 on a year ago. Of these, 848,000 were women and 1,904,000 were men.

Is it not a fact that women are heavily discriminated against in employment and that when they come off the unemployment register most get jobs that most other people do not want, which are usually very low paid—for example, in tourism in the west country? Is there not something that we could do to ensure that women have some chance of full-time jobs instead of miserably low-paid, part-time jobs?

I accept almost nothing of what the hon. Gentleman said. In the past 12 months there has been an increase of about 372,000 in the number in work. For women, the increase in those in full-time jobs was more than the increase in those in part-time jobs. However, it is also true that many women prefer to have part-time jobs, and that is shown by many surveys.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the number of unemployed in Lancaster has fallen steadily and that, more important, the number in employment is steadily increasing? Many are employed in adaptable small firms and many in the tourist industry, which is taking advantage of our natural attractions and historic connections.

My hon. Friend is right. There has been a very big increase in employment, and the tourist industry has been one of the major activities involved. It is not right for Opposition Members to criticise that increase and suggest that, somehow, jobs in tourism are not real jobs. Of course they are real jobs, and they are internationally competitive real jobs.

Will the Secretary of State recognise that unemployment is still far too high? Given the present level of unemployment, is it not crazy to have ended the job release scheme? Is it not wrong to say that that scheme has been ended because the number using it has fallen considerably? Should not the Government have been moving in the opposite direction and allowing more people to take early retirement under the job release scheme to make employment available for younger people?

The job release scheme was being applied only to those aged 64 and was having a very marginal impact.

On the unemployment statistics, the fact is that unemployment has come down for 16 months in succession. In the past 12 months the fall in the figures has been the largest on record. It has affected every region of the country and there have been record falls in long-term unemployment and in unemployment among young people. I had very much hoped that the Opposition would welcome that trend.

Is it not a fact that there has been not only an enormous reduction in unemployment this year but a corresponding and greater growth in employment? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in each month of 1987 the Corby jobcentre has had a record number of job vacancies? To encourage people to take the jobs that are now available, would it not be sensible for income tax rates to be reduced to reduce some of the disincentives to work?

The last point is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What my hon. Friend has said about the increase in the number in employment is right. The position in this country compares favourably with the EEC average and with countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Will the Secretary of State accept that it would be helpful if his Department produced figures which showed the number of people in part-time employment and those in full-time employment? While the new jobs that are being created are welcome, there is genuine concern that they are often part-time jobs replacing full-time jobs. Rather than exchanges which do not shed light, would it not be helpful if his Department gave us the facts?

The fact of the matter is that we do produce those figures. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who I think leads for the Liberal party on these matters, is not aware of that. I will repeat the figures again. Over the past 12 months, 372,000 new jobs have been created, of which 206,000—the majority—are full-time.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the level of unemployment in the United Kingdom is at its lowest for five years? Will he comment on how he sees the unemployment trends developing in the coming months?

As I have said, unemployment has come down for 16 months in a row. My hon. Friend is entirely right to state that it is now at its lowest level for five years. The Government want that trend to continue. That is not automatic, but provided that the lessons of the past are learned, I believe that unemployment should continue to come down.

While we certainly welcome any further fall in the unemployment figures, may I ask whether the Secretary of State is aware that, even on the Government's figures after they have fiddled them in 19 different ways, unemployment has still fallen by only one quarter of the amount by which it has increased under the Government since 1979? Is he further aware that under this Government Britain still has the worst combination of high unemployment and high inflation of any major Western country? Is he also aware that the number of people in jobs as a proportion of the total population available for work has not improved one jot, according to the Government's figures, since the end of 1982?

I am not prepared to take lectures from the hon. Gentleman on the inflation rate. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour Government when inflation exceeded 20 per cent. The fact is that unemployment has come down for 16 months in succession. There is no question about the downward trend in unemployment. The hon. Gentleman would do much better to welcome that trend and recognise that in countries such as France, Belgium, Spain and Ireland unemployment is higher, not lower, than in this country.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is significant that during the general election campaign in June the Conservative party was the only party which did not make rash promises about reducing unemployment to 2 million in one year? Does that not prove that actions speak louder than words?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Since the election the unemployment rate has come down by several hundred thousand. We very much hope that the trend will continue.