Unemployment Relief

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Services – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th November 1979.

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Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Kingston upon Thames Surbiton 12:00 am, 13th November 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will seek powers to discontinue the payment of unemployment relief to any person who, after being unemployed for three months, refuses to accept any offer of employment made by an employment exchange.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

No, Sir. Under existing provisions, a person who at any time and without good cause refuses suitable employment can be disqualified for unemployment benefit for up to six weeks, and any entitlement to supplementary benefit that he may have would normally be reduced by up to 40 per cent, of his personal requirements.

Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Kingston upon Thames Surbiton

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that when the ruling that I have suggested was tried in Australia the number of unfilled job vacancies fell quite dramatically, to the benefit of industry and of the taxpayer who hitherto had been paying out large sums of unemployment benefit to many people who had not been genuinely seeking work?

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

We believe that the rules here are fairly powerful if they are fully applied. They have not been adequately enforced in recent years. They are still not being adequately enforced. For that reason we are employing extra officers on the work. We shall be employing some 450 additional officers on various ways of checking on abuse of the system this year. They will include unemployment review officers. We shall employ a further 600 next year.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West

Will the Minister tell his benighted hon. Friend that, when he loses his seat at the next general election, he can always apply for a job down the pit? Is he aware that the only probable result would be a decline in the productivity of the coal industry?

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

I think that that is a problem that will face Labour Members rather than my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Thanet West

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that one of the great problems in this respect exists in areas such as Thanet? A considerable number of people go to live there when they cannot possibly get a job there using the skills that they have used all through their lives. They therefore remain permanently unemployed. I am referring to people such as civil servants and welders. Is it not necessary for the Minister to be able to issue a direction that they shall not continue to receive unemployment pay when they remain in an area where they know they cannot get employment?

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

That presents a difficult aspect of the problem. The legislation that I summarised earlier refers to the acceptance of reasonable offers of employment. It is because that can be adapted to particular geographical areas and levels of skills or experience that we consider it the best way to operate while enforcing the law more strictly.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I remind the House that yesterday we were able to make much better progress with questions because hon. Members tried to ask only one supplementary question and because both questions and answers were brief.

Photo of Mr Edwin Wainwright Mr Edwin Wainwright , Dearne Valley

Does the Minister realise that the tone of the two supplementary questions from Conservative Members illustrates what they think of the workers of this country? Does he appreciate that the great majority of the 1,400,000 employed are genuinely seeking work? Is it not the duty of the Government to find them jobs and not to be so despicable in their actions?

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

The majority of people who are registered as unemployed are genuinely seeking work. It is in their interest and that of the whole country that the minority who try to cheat the system should not be allowed to do so. That is why we intend to enforce the law more strictly.