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Volume 715: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the latest quarterly figure for total unemployment in the United Kingdom; and what is the latest monthly total number of claimants of unemployment benefit.

My Lords, in the quarter to October 2009, 2,491,000 people were ILO unemployed, which was up 21,000 on the May to July period. In November 2009, 1,626,200 people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance, which was down on the previous month.

My Lords, although there is some Christmas cheer in those figures, there is sad news, too, especially for young people, whose unemployment figure is at a record high of 952,000. In presenting his Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor said that promoting employment is and has been a top priority. However, is not the increase in national insurance a deliberate tax on jobs? Is this why the Chancellor admitted in that same Statement that unemployment will keep on rising for some time?

My Lords, the figures that I have just announced are encouraging, but we are not complacent; we expect unemployment to continue to rise for a few months or more. On the question of young people, when you strip out the number of full-time students, ILO unemployment for young people has fallen over the month and, of course, the White Paper this week announced a number of additional measures to support young people in particular. The challenge with regard to the PBR measures is to ensure that we sustain the economic recovery and do not do anything to impair it. Part of that includes a balance of tax measures and reductions and restraint in public expenditure.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in these figures over 1 million people—433,000 men and 577,000 women—said that they were having to work part time but would rather work full time? Many of them have effectively had a forced pay cut by having to work fewer days. Will the Minister accept that there is a great deal of hidden unemployment in those figures?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point out that there has been an increase in part-time working, but overall, over the last period, the number of people in employment has risen. That again emphasises the need to have a range of measures to support the recovery in the economy so that as we move into growth, which the Chancellor anticipated would happen by the end of this year, we can have a job-sustained recovery. A number of measures have been announced to achieve that.

My Lords, what is the Government’s projection for unemployment on the ILO basis for 2010? I remind him that the convention that the Government do not provide those figures ended last week when in the Green Book—the Pre-Budget Report—we were provided with projections for the claimant count between 2008 and 2014.

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right that the previous convention was changed in the Pre-Budget Report and for the first time HMT projected the claimant count. It has retained the more cautious NAO-audited unemployment assumptions. I do not have the ILO count, but the Treasury’s projection is that claimant-count unemployment will peak at 1.75 million in mid-2010, fall to 1.5 million at the of 2012 and reach 1.25 million in 2014. I remind the noble Lord that outside commentators’ projections just six months ago about the level of claimant-count unemployment at the end of this year were something like 400,000 in excess of the reality.

My Lords, do the Government give priority to creating apprenticeships and skills training? What is the Government’s record on these subjects?

My Lords, apprenticeships are very important. There has been huge investment in apprenticeships over recent years and a sustained increase in their number—they had pretty much gone out of existence under the previous Administration. Extra measures were announced in the White Paper, including a new subsidy for employers that take on 16 to 17 year-old apprentices, as well further support across government procurement to enhance and sustain apprenticeships. That is a key plank of making sure that we have a sustained, jobs-related recovery.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the hardest hit areas, such as Merthyr Tydfil, are those that have always been vulnerable in the past? What special measures will the Government take, perhaps with the Welsh Assembly Government, to tackle the problems of the black spots, especially in south Wales?

My Lords, one feature of the recession that we have just endured is that the impact has generally been spread more evenly across the country than in some of the earlier recessions. However, arrangements and policies are in place—for example, local employment partnerships and the various funds that CLG supports in areas of particular deprivation and challenge—to focus extra support on the areas where unemployment represents the biggest challenge. However, across the country, unemployment has been more evenly spread than in previous recessions.