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Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2010


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 November 2009, 2.46 million people were ILO unemployed, which is down 7,000 on the quarter. In December 2009, 1,606,500 people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance, which is down 15,000 on the month.

My Lords, the falls in the total and claimant figures are a welcome relief—temporary though they may be. Does the noble Lord agree that there is still real cause for concern about the fall in the employment rate to 72.4 per cent, the lowest since the winter of 1996-97, and the increase to November 1997 levels in the number of those unemployed for more than 12 months? Does the noble Lord agree that today’s announcement of 0.1 per cent growth in the last quarter of last year hardly holds out much hope to the record number of 8 million economically inactive people in this country?

My Lords, there was a host of questions in there. As regards today’s news on the economy, the Chancellor has always said that it would return to growth by the end of the year. The estimate makes clear that the Government are right to be confident but cautious about the prospects for the economy. There are now clear signs that the impact of the recession on the labour market is easing. The level of redundancies has fallen significantly since the spring. As regards jobseeker’s allowance, the December on-flow figure of 328,000 was the lowest for a year, but more than 350,000 people left JSA, which is the highest figure for 15 years. On the inactivity figures, I suggest that you need to unpick the raw data, because you need to take account of the fact that the population has increased. If you extract the number of full-time students in that data, you will see that the proportion of the working-age population that is inactive is actually 2.3 per cent lower even than in 1997, let alone previous Tory recessions.

My Lords, I should like to ask a fact-based question, if the noble Lord, Lord Myners, would allow me to; 1,034,000 people have been made redundant over the past year, an increase of a third over the previous year. How many of them have been able to find new full-time jobs?

My Lords, the latest figure of 182,000 redundancies for the quarter is down on the previous quarter and is certainly down on the peak during spring 2009. The noble Lord is correct to raise issues around full-time and part-time employment. If the import of his question is that there has been an increase in part-time employment, he is right. However, just under 14 per cent of the total are looking for full-time, rather than part-time, employment.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the investment in skills that this Government have made over the past two or three years has made a big difference to the unemployment figures, and has most definitely made a difference when comparing redundancy figures and the number of people being placed in other jobs?

My Lords, yes, I very much agree with my noble friend and it allows me the opportunity to remind noble Lords of the announcement yesterday that from 25 January every young person who is unemployed for six months will be guaranteed the offer of a job, training or work experience, supported by up to 470,000 opportunities over the next 15 months through the Government’s young person’s guarantee.

My Lords, during the past half century the north-west had some particularly high levels of unemployment. Given that the Manchester city region is currently the strongest economic engine outside London, is that reflected in the regional breakdown of the current figures, or does unemployment in the north-west remain disproportionately high?

My Lords, I think it is right to say that the impact of the recession has been felt across the UK. I was trying to seek the regional breakdown of the data, which I have, and it might be easier if I write to the right reverend Prelate specifically on that. The key point, however, is that action the Government have taken through local employment partnerships, through Backing Young Britain, through the jobs guarantee, impacts across our country and is not just concentrated in certain areas.

My Lords, will the Minister, provide us with the Government’s projections for ILO unemployment when it peaks, as we hope, in 2010? He has acknowledged that the convention not to provide these figures ended last autumn.

My Lords, I would refer the noble Lord to the Statement made on the Pre-Budget Report, where for purposes of openness the Government set out projections of the claimant count over the next few years, consistent with the other projections that were made in the PBR. I would refer him to that document. If memory serves, I think it showed the claimant count peaking at 1.75 million but the projections made by outside commentators in current times have been way over the out-turn.