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Volume 765: debated on Wednesday 4 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what change there has been in the number of British nationals employed between (1) May 2005 and May 2010, and (2) May 2010 and the most recent month for which statistics are available.

My Lords, between May 2005 and 2010, the number of British nationals employed fell by 455,000. Since 2010, the number of employed British nationals has risen by 1.1 million.

My Lords, that is excellent news, as I am sure all Members of the House will agree. My particular interest is the position of women. Will my noble friend tell the House exactly what the position over the same period was for women?

I would be delighted to tell my noble friend. Since 2010, the number of women in work has risen by 920,000. The female employment rate has increased by 3.3 percentage points to a record level of 68.8%. By contrast, between 2005 and 2010, the employment rate for women fell by 1.3 percentage points.

My Lords, however good those figures are, is the noble Baroness aware that the black cloud of unemployment hangs like a shroud over thousands of families, and the whole community, in Redcar on Teesside? Is she aware that this is a huge site of eight square miles, with a blast furnace as big as St Paul’s Cathedral, and that it will take a great deal to bring it back into use after the facilities have been demolished? There is a site next door—also of eight square miles—with another steelworks whose future is also in doubt. Down in Ebbsfleet in Kent, the Government have given £200 million to rehabilitate the site. Will they look at the figure given for the Redcar site of £80 million, £20 million of which is going on redundancy payments, to see if it can be increased, and bring together a task force to do something for that community?

My Lords, we understand that the position in Redcar is terribly distressing for all the families involved, and the Government are already addressing this issue. There are measures already in place to help the workers affected to retrain. The Government are committed to full employment, and there are record numbers of people in work. We have had tremendous success in helping people back into work and we will continue to do that for Redcar and around the country

My Lords, the Minister did not mention that over a third of the new jobs created between 2010 and 2014 were people becoming self-employed, and that those jobs tend to be less secure and lower paid. Will the Minister therefore confirm that self-employed people will not benefit from what the Government call the new living wage—the higher minimum rate for the over-25s—and yet will still lose through the changes to tax credits? What are the Government doing to compensate them?

My Lords, self-employment is a very important route into work for many people, particularly many women, and we have set up, under Julie Dean, an independent review of any barriers to self-employment that may exist. We will also continue to work with the noble Baroness, Lady Mone, in supporting start-ups for disadvantaged communities.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the problems of the steel industry have been greatly exacerbated by our inability to deal with dumping from China because of our membership of the European Union and the huge levies imposed on high-energy businesses as part of the green agenda, promoted by the Liberals with such vigour?

I think the issues for the steel industry go wider than that; there are macroeconomic factors as well.

My Lords, I listened carefully to the figures that the noble Baroness gave. Of course, they sound very creditable. However, can she comment on the fact that six million—about 23% of the workforce—are below the current acknowledged living wage?

When Labour was in power, it did not increase the national minimum wage to the national living wage, and pay is increasing rapidly. There has been a 3% increase in average earnings, the fastest rate for many years.

Does my noble friend agree that the great success this Government have had in creating new jobs goes wider than simply the economy? Does she also agree that rising employment is the only permanent way to tackle poverty, that it is the best way to keep families together, and that there is a distinctive, powerful and important moral reason for continuing this Government’s successful economic policies?

I certainly agree with that. The Government are on the road to achieving their target of full employment. The employment rate is at a record high, and there are nearly 740,000 vacancies in the economy, which is much higher than before the recession. We therefore have a record to be proud of in this regard.

My Lords, perhaps I can assist the Minister by giving her the opportunity to acknowledge that the Labour Government actually introduced the minimum wage—let alone anything else—and when we introduced it, we were told it would finish off industry because companies would not be able to afford it. However, I want to push her on other things she has been talking about. I agree that economic opportunity is at the core of good family and community life. Redcar, which we have been discussing, is in the north-east, which still has the highest unemployment in the country and will suffer, I suspect, more from changes in the tax credit regime—whatever they are—than anywhere else in the country. The Government are therefore piling on top of each other lots of things that will bring my region real problems. What are she and the Government going to do to tackle them?

My Lords, as I said, the Government are rolling out their policies, which have created and will continue to create new jobs at a record rate. The northern powerhouse will be powerful in ensuring that the benefits are spread more widely. As to the initial point, we were talking here about the national living wage rather than the minimum wage.