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Volume 767: debated on Thursday 19 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of last week’s employment statistics, what progress they are making towards their manifesto commitment of achieving full employment in Britain.

My Lords, we are making excellent progress towards full employment, with the latest figures showing 31.2 million people in work—a record high, and more than 2 million higher than in 2010. The employment rate of 73.7% is also a record high. There are 735,000 vacancies in the economy—also near the record high.

That is such good news, but no one can fail to be moved by the plight of a young person receiving repeated rejections. Will my noble friend the Minister tell the House how the mentoring initiatives are progressing in trying to get these people into work?

My Lords, in Jobcentre Plus we have across the country a network of trained and dedicated work coaches. They are transforming the relationship we have with claimants, and, in turn, the relationship they have with the labour market. Since the 2010 election, youth unemployment has fallen by 285,000 to its lowest level since early 2006.

My Lords, while welcoming the increase in the quantity of jobs, I put it to the Minister that when the full employment White Paper was published in the middle years of the 20th century, the assumption was that the jobs created would be adequately paid, secure and long term. Only a small proportion of the jobs created in recent years have been of that nature. What is the Government’s strategy to improve the quality of employment, and what contribution do they consider the trade unions can make to that strategy?

I am not entirely sure what figures the noble Lord is referring to, but since 2010 around two-thirds of the rise in employment has been in managerial, professional and associate professional occupations, which generally command a higher wage.

My Lords, we know that the poorest families are often working families. While I welcome the Government’s statistics, would it not be useful to know how many of the jobs are part-time—following the noble Lord’s question—how many of them pay a living wage, and what hope there is of these families reaching a point where they are self-sufficient?

My Lords, those are indeed important issues but over the year, and since 2010, the majority of employment growth has come from full-time work—up by more than 1.5 million posts since 2010.

My Lords, encouraging though those national figures are, does the noble Baroness accept that they mask massive disparities between different regions of this country, in particular between the north and south? What are the Government doing about that?

My Lords, there have indeed been concerns about disparities but they are reducing significantly. The plans for the northern powerhouse will make a difference. The latest figures from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG show that the Midlands and the north led a broad rise in demand for permanent staff, with salaries rising as well.

What evidence do the Government have that docking £30 a week from half a million disabled people in the work-related activity group will act as a work incentive and help close the disability employment gap?

It is indeed the aim of this Government to halve the disability employment gap. The reforms to the employment and support allowance are designed to ensure that we have the right incentives in place to help people in the work-related activity group, of whom 61% do want to move into work, to do so.

My Lords, many years ago, when I was taught economics, I was taught to define my terms. Will my noble friend explain whether the 2% to 3% unemployment rate which was valid in the 1980s still constitutes full employment?

My Lords, there is no recognised definition of full employment as far as the economics profession is concerned. The Government’s measure of full employment will be released in the first progress report on the full employment Bill.

My Lords, in education, girls outperform boys in GCSEs, A-levels and graduate studies. However, across 90% of all sectors there remains a pay gap for women working full-time, particularly for those working in the finance and insurance industry. What are the Government doing to address this gap?

The latest figures show that the pay rate for women under 35 is now higher than that for men. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, and we will look at the fact that there is still a gender pay gap for older women.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that apprenticeships are included in the figures she has given to the House? If so, is she aware that apprenticeships are now commonly for a duration of six weeks and can be for skills such as wrapping vegetables, putting flowers into bundles for supermarkets, sweeping stable floors and working in a fish and chip shop? Surely, this demeans the word “apprenticeship” and is just a way of massaging unemployment figures.

My Lords, the aim of the apprenticeship programme is to get young people ready for work. The types of work are not as important as the fact that they are in work.