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Volume 717: debated on Monday 1 March 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, welcome as the reduction of some 3,000 in the overall ILO figure is, does the Minister agree that it has to be seen in the context of a 12,000 reduction in the total number of people in employment and a fall of 37,000 in the number in full-time employment—which is, I think, a record high figure? Does he agree that those figures and the 23,500 rise in the number of claimants hardly suggest that we are well clear of the recession and in fact augur rather badly for economic growth and the Government’s target of 1.25 per cent for this year, which is twice the EU forecast of 0.6 per cent?

My Lords, I do not accept that it augurs badly for economic growth in this country. There are now clear signs that the position in the labour market is stabilising—redundancies have fallen back significantly since spring of last year, fewer people made new claims for jobseeker’s allowance and the number of vacancies is also increasing. Indeed the number of people unemployed on the ILO definition is now close to flat and has, as the noble Lord identified, reduced a little. Although the claimant count rose in January, and there will always be variations from month to month, the number of people making a new claim—322,600—was the lowest figure for a year. There are still challenges ahead, which is why we must not hold back from the investment that the Government have put into a range of programmes. In particular, we must not divert resources from these programmes to inheritance tax cuts for the wealthy or, indeed, for the married couple's allowance.

Does the noble Lord agree that the fundamental problem is not only how many are employed or not employed at the moment but how many will be employed in the future? Does not the fundamental question concern where our AAA rating is on the global finance markets? If that stands, employment stands.

My Lords, of course employment is a very important issue. Before the recession we had the aspiration of an 80 per cent employment rate. As we have come through the recession, we have seen the first quarter of growth, at the end of last year, in a little while. We need to re-energise and refocus on making sure that we hit those employment targets, which is why I repeat that these things do not happen by chance; they happen because the Government have invested £5 billion in capacity for Jobcentre Plus for a range of measures to keep people in employment or to move them closer to the labour market.

Does my noble friend agree that it is a mistake to sell our country short when, in fact, unemployment in this country is significantly lower, and has long been lower, than that of many of our European competitors? Can we also bear in mind that a 0.3 per cent growth rate is higher than even the best prediction, which was 0.2 per cent? Should we not be at least a little welcoming of the optimism that feeds and drives the British industry that keeps the jobs and investment going?

Yes, my Lords; I very much agree with my noble friend. It is not just the growth rate at the end of last quarter: a number of surveys are showing improved confidence. He is right that if you look at the UK’s unemployment rate in comparison with the rest of the world, we have an unemployment rate that is lower than the G7, EU and OECD averages. We are at 7.8 per cent on the ILO measure. Canada is at 8.3 per cent, Italy at 8.5 per cent, the US at 9.7 per cent, France at 10 per cent and Spain at 19.5 per cent.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that this question is about real jobs that will sustain a recovery. He also talks of investment at a time when the car scrappage scheme is ending. How many jobs does he think have been saved by the car scrappage scheme, and how many will be lost by its abandonment?

My Lords, the car scrappage scheme was part of the fiscal stimulus that the UK economy has received—a fiscal stimulus which I think was opposed by the noble Lord’s party. I do not have the data on the precise number of jobs attached to the scheme, but he is quite right that we need to be about sustaining jobs so that people have not only employment but jobs that are sustainable and in which they can grow and flourish. If he looks at the vacancies that came out in the recent report, he will also see that manufacturing showed an increase of something like 23 per cent on the quarter. That is a good sign as well.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that we would not now be facing the need to make so many cuts, in jobs particularly, if all those who sat in this House and took the benefit of living in this country paid full British tax in this country?

My Lords, I am a great believer in the sentiment that the noble Lord has expressed. The ability of people to sit in this House when they claim to be non-domiciled and are not treated as ordinarily resident and domiciled in this country is a huge mistake—one which I think and hope we will rectify soon.

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what assessment he makes of women who would like a job but do not apply for jobseeker’s allowance and do not register as unemployed simply because of the job situation?

My Lords, I am not sure that we have much evidence for that particular assertion. As the noble Countess will recognise, because I think she was involved in our debates on the Welfare Reform Bill, there has been a lot of focus on helping people back into and closer to the labour market—particularly helping lone parents, most of whom are women—and on supporting them so that they can actually move into employment. If one looks at all the issues around poverty, one sees that the thing that makes the difference is people’s employment opportunities.