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Labour Market Inactivity

Volume 737: debated on Monday 4 September 2023

15. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of its policies on reducing the level of inactivity in the labour market. (906157)

We are doing a great deal to bear down on economic inactivity. As of August this year, the figures show that over half the increase in economic activity that occurred during the pandemic has since unwound. That is more than 300,000 people into work.

The Secretary of State’s comments suggesting that unemployed over-50s should consider becoming delivery riders clearly show that the Government are failing to help older workers into stable employment. Rather than glorifying precarious work in the gig economy, will he commit to rolling out a plan that gives older workers the dignity, respect and support they deserve to rejoin the workforce?

I think it is very unfortunate when any Member of this House looks down on a certain category of job that is employing hundreds of thousands of people perfectly satisfactorily. In fact, in that interview I said:

“I think as a department we shouldn’t be prescriptive,”—

referring to the over-50s—

“so we’re not here to start pontificating about whether people should or should not go back into work”.

Hopefully that has put the record straight. We are doing a huge amount to support those over 50 who have retired prematurely, including the midlife MOT, returnerships and the tax changes we have made around pensions, and we will continue to support people. That is why we are seeing those inactivity rates above 50 declining quite strongly.

Sickness and sick pay are an anchor when it comes to getting people back into work, as well as helping to grow the economy. That is why the Centre for Progressive Change produced an excellent report that has support from Members across this House. Will my right hon. Friend therefore meet me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who has also supported it, to look at the proposals made, so that we can really help to improve sick pay—something that has the backing of 75% of British businesses?

I would be very happy for either myself or the relevant Minister to meet my hon. Friend or my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel).

We all want to see both unemployment and economic inactivity as low as possible, but the Office for National Statistics, quoted approvingly by the Minister a few minutes ago, reports that this spring’s quarter showed a large fall in the number of people moving from economic inactivity into employment, and that the net movement from employment to economic inactivity was the largest since the covid autumn of 2020. Given that this is the Department’s priority, what assessment has he made of why this is going wrong?

My assessment of economic inactivity is that it is falling; it has fallen by around 350,000 or more since its peak during the pandemic. That leaves us below the average rate of economic inactivity across the G7, the European Union and the OECD. We are making real progress and will continue to do so.