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Volume 751: debated on Wednesday 15 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of people in full-time employment in the United Kingdom.

There are more people in work than ever before. The latest figures show that we have reached a record high employment level in the UK, with more than 30 million people now in work. Three in every four workers—about 22 million people—are in full-time employment. In the past year, the number of people in full-time work has risen by 460,000. This represents 95% of the increase in total employment in the UK.

I thank my noble friend for his response. These figures are very good news. Work represents the greatest way for people not only to escape poverty but for most of us to realise our potential. What are the Government doing to ensure that all groups benefit from this employment boom, not least young people and disabled people?

My noble friend is right to concentrate on specifics, and I am happy to assure him that we have campaigns to get the disabled into work. We have just launched the two-year Disability Confident campaign for employers, and in December we issued the disability health employment strategy. As for youth, I am pleased to be able to say that JSA for youth has now fallen for 18 consecutive months. The number of young NEETs is the lowest for a decade. We have 1.5 million apprenticeship places. The key measure that I have used in this House before is the number of young out of work and out of education, which rose under the previous Government, even though we had the biggest boom. We have now got it under control and it is beginning to fall. The number is now down by 100,000 since the election.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that quite a few people in full-time employment are in jobs below their qualifications and abilities, so the figures need to be looked at more carefully? Much more to the point, is he aware that if we look at the present state of the British economy, to cite that great liberal economist John Maynard Keynes, it is nowhere near full employment and the Government’s policies will never get us there?

My Lords, the leader of the Labour Party said in 2010 that we had a programme that would lead to the loss of 1 million jobs. In fact, we have had a programme that has led to an increase of 1.2 million jobs. We have the right policies to get this country back on the move.

My Lords, whereas it is quite clear that the headline unemployment figures are welcome, there is a problem about emerging underemployment and intermittent hours. While we are waiting, with more and more impatience, for the arrival of universal credit, which in due course will help, will the Minister do all he can to encourage people to take advantage of the existing in-work benefits, which can help employees get into full-time, sustainable jobs? While he is at it, will he do his best to try to tone down the Government’s anti-welfare rhetoric, which indiscriminately and unfairly seeks to caricature every social security claimant as either a scrounger or a cheat?

My Lords, as my noble friend is fully aware, we are introducing a programme to blend the out-of-work benefits with the in-work tax credits. That is vital because it gets rid of that distinction and makes a smooth transition from being out of work to being in work. That is a vital reform which, as my noble friend knows, I am pursuing with all my energy.

Is the noble Lord able to say when the Government expect unemployment to fall to the level of 7% and we can expect to see interest rates rising again?

My Lords, that is, of course, a reference to the Bank of England’s target of 7%. Unemployment has been falling pretty dramatically: it fell 0.3 percentage points to 7.4% in the latest three-month period. It is not the job of a government Minister to predict when unemployment will hit any particular rate; all I can say is that these trends are immensely encouraging. We should all look for them to continue to improve and I have no doubt that they will.

Bearing in mind his first Answer, can the Minister tell us what discussions there are in government about the relative economic merits of raising the minimum wage?

There are two distinct factors. The higher the minimum wage, the more people will not go into the market. Estimates show that if we were to go with the recommended living wage, we would lose 300,000 jobs, particularly among youngsters. On the other side of the argument, there are benefits in terms of pay, particularly for the Government, because—as my noble friend mentioned—the tax credit system boosts the pay of low-paid people. That is the balance of the debate.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there are still significant regional differences in unemployment levels in the UK. Can he tell us what regional policies the Government may have in mind to help the situation in areas such as the one where I live, in the north-east of England, where unemployment levels are still in double figures?

My Lords, I was encouraged, as other noble Lords will have been, to hear the very optimistic remarks about what is happening in the north; namely, that it is outpacing London at this particular time. Let us hope that that is and remains the case.