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Jobseeker’s Allowance (North Wiltshire)

Volume 507: debated on Monday 15 March 2010

2. How many jobseeker’s allowance claimants there were (a) nationally and (b) in North Wiltshire constituency (i) on the latest date for which figures are available and (ii) 12 months before that date. (321773)

May I also pay a personal tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland, who we will all sadly miss and whose family are in our thoughts today?

In the past 12 months, as a result of the recession, the claimant count nationally has risen from 1.3 million to 1.6 million—500,000 fewer than expected this time last year. In Wiltshire, it has risen from 5,250 to 7,300 in the past 12 months, but remains less than half the 15,000 level that it reached during the last recession in the 1990s.

The question was about the North Wiltshire constituency rather than the county of Wiltshire. In North Wiltshire, in January this year, the figure for jobseeker’s allowance was 1,735—some 500 higher than this time last year, and the highest figure since Labour came to power. That is against the figure of 294 jobs advertised in North Wiltshire. Will the Secretary of State comment on so-called ghost vacancies, which may have inflated that figure? These are vacancies that do not exist but which employment agencies have created in order to collect CVs more or less fraudulently.

The way in which the unemployment figures are calculated would not be affected by any inaccuracies in the list of vacancies, because it looks first at the claimant count and also at the labour force survey, which is very detailed. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that in his own constituency the figure is 1,735. He will also be aware, however, that the 500,000 lower than expected figure for unemployment translates into an improvement of about 700 in the claimant count for every constituency right across the country. I hope that that is something that he would welcome as a result of the investment that we have put in, which, unfortunately, his party has opposed repeatedly over the past 18 months. As for what employment agencies are doing, it is important that they act reputably and do not operate in any way that is fraudulent when putting forward vacancies, whatever their motive for doing so.

First, may I associate myself and my hon. Friends with the remarks that have been made about the untimely death of Dr. Ashok Kumar? He was indeed widely respected across this House, and of course our condolences go to his family and friends; our thoughts are with all of them today.

Official figures published today show that the UK accounts for one in seven of Europe’s entire hidden jobless population. After 13 years of a Labour Government, why is that?

In fact, as the right hon. Lady will be aware, unemployment in this country is significantly lower than in most of our major European competitors. In addition, we have seen a significant number of people going into further education and full-time education. We are proud of the increase in the number of students that has taken place over the past few years. I am sorry that her party refused to support funding for the September guarantee, which has helped a lot more young people, in particular, to stay on in education and has helped to reduce the number of people who are unemployed.

But what the Secretary of State failed to address was the issue of the hidden jobless, which was what my question was about. There are 2.3 million people in this country who want to work but are not in work and are not counted in the unemployment figures. In those figures, of course, one group for which unemployment has been rising in recent months has been those on incapacity benefit. The Government’s figures now show that they are going to miss their target of getting 1 million people off incapacity benefit by 2015, not by 100,000 or 200,000 but by 700,000. Is it not the case that five more years of this Labour Government will leave 700,000 people needlessly written off to a life on benefits?

We should look at the facts. In fact, the number of people on inactive benefits has fallen by 300,000 since 1997, despite the recession. That is in marked contrast to the figures when the right hon. Lady’s party was in government, when the number of people on incapacity benefit trebled from 1979 because her party consistently turned its back on people, wrote them off and ignored people who were on long-term benefits such as unemployment and sickness benefit. If she wants to get serious about helping people back to work, will she finally support the £5 billion extra that we are putting into helping people back to work, which her party has repeatedly refused to support?