Unemployment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 25th June 1980.

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Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme 5:18 pm, 25th June 1980

Youngsters should attend at careers services offices and possibly there is far too much pressure upon them for them to cope with part-time employment. But the point should certainly be considered.

Employers in North Staffordshire, where, for the first time since the war, we have an unemployment level of over 6 per cent., do not talk about their problems in terms of higher wage increases. They tell me that their problems are high interest rates, the strength of the pound—particularly important in the pottery industry—and the pottery industry having to pay an artificially high price for gas which make it difficult for them to compete.

Wages claims play a part in inflation, but the Government are wrong to cite them as the only cause of inflation. Employers speak of many other factors causing inflation apart from wage claims. The Government must share responsibility for the current recession.

Youth unemployment is a special problem not only because of numbers but because of the nature of young people themselves. Many old people, when they are declared redundant, believe that they have played a very small part in the process of redundancy. They blame the politicians, the employers and the world recession. An adult who has worked hard for 20 years in the belief that he has done a good job and who is declared redundant leaves the plant with a degree of self-confidence. He blames other people.

I discovered in the Department of Employment that young people who cannot find employment quickly blame themselves and become demoralised. That is particularly the case among those youngsters who have not fared particularly well in our school system, which is often not geared to coping with the average or the below average youngster. The school system having failed them—or they having failed in the system—they quickly become demoralised when they fail to get work.

My eyes were opened one winter morning when I spoke to a youngster in the Oxfam waste centre in Huddersfield. He told me that when he was not able to find a job he did not leave home for months. When he continued to find it impossible to get work he did not speak to his mum for weeks. When the offer of a place on the job creation programme came, he cried. When he eventually went to work, separating rags, he felt that that was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him. He had been given a sense of purpose.

The problem of youth unemployment is special because of the impact on an individual's whole being. I believe that that situation is now shared by many of the long-term unemployed who lose their self-confidence after about six months of unemployment. When they have been unemployed for 12 months one begins to detect a change in their personality. There is now a massive problem of youth unemployment and of long-term unemployment. The MSC forecast of the doubling of youth unemployment in the coming year comes with a forecast of an increase in the number of the long-term unemployed to 500,000 by 1982. That is the size of the problem and it is a big problem.

Up to now the problem has manifested itself principally among those whom I have always called the rough and tumble. Those are the people who have not done well at school, who have rough personalities, who do not dress very well and who are not eloquent. Unemployment has been pretty well concentrated among those youngsters in the past. This year we see a difference. We are now getting reports, town by town, of unemployed youngsters who possess O-levels and who have a fair bit about them. That unemployment comes about partly because of reductions in recruitment in local government, in the Civil Service and in offices generally. Employment in those sectors is declining and that decline is having a significant impact on youngsters.

There has also been a reduction in the recruitment of apprentices. Those who talk to employers and to trade union officials know that this is happening. I am sad to say that neither the Manpower Services Commission nor the Government have acted early enough this year to counteract the reduction in the recruitment of apprentices. The Government will, perhaps, act later in the year. But it will then be too late. It will be too late because the brightest and best of the youngsters wanted by employers on award schemes as apprentices will have gone into other work. Youngsters who in the past would have gone into offices will also have taken up different work.

The problem with bright youngsters this year is that they will be taking up work that is below their potential. They will be grabbing whatever work they can and employers will take the best of them. Those youngsters will be underemployed and that, in turn, will make the problem for less able young people more acute. The jobs that they would have taken in the past will not be available to them. The brighter youngsters will be in and the less able will be squeezed out.

If, later in the year, the Government make jobs available for the brighter youngsters they may find that they will not leave the jobs they have. They will say "We are not leaving now. This mister gave us a chance when we wanted it". There is a great deal of loyalty in young people towards adults who have given them that chance. The Government must look very carefully at the pattern of employment among young people to correct the deficiencies.

The problem of youth unemployment cannot be explained away by a Tweedle-dum-Tweedledee attitude, by which the political parties call each other names. Behind that there exists a genuine problem in this country, as in others, which goes beyond party policies. An element of that is that jobs for young people have been disappearing. When I was a lad my first job was to make the tea. That work is now done by vending machines, which no doubt do a better job than I did. The corner shops have disappeared and with them the lads who delivered the groceries by bicycle.

The second institutional reason was shown when the Holland committee inquired into reasons for youth unemployment. It found that employers readily took on youngsters for apprenticeships and office jobs but not for semiskilled and labouring work. Part of the reason for that is that employers go to the careers officers for apprentices and office workers, but they go to the jobcentres and employment offices to fill semi-skilled and labouring vacancies. That means that the careers officers who, in spite of criticism of them, do a superb job, just do not have the semi-skilled and labouring work to offer the 16 or 17-year-olds.

There is tremendous discrimination against the young in employment. That happens for several reasons. Employers believe youngsters to be less reliable than older people. There are many more older people, including married women, than youngsters available to work. Given a choice between a married woman of 25 whose children are at school and a girl of 16 or 17, an employer will take on the former. That is partly because the older person has the image of being much more reliable. A further element is that differentials in pay as between the young and adults have been squeezed. There has been a change in the wage structure, contrary to the interests of young people as far as employment is concerned.

There is also a resistance among the work force to the recruitment of youngsters. Workers on the shop floor are opposed to youngsters being recruited to production jobs because they fear that, where earnings are related to production and bonuses are paid, the youngsters will muck around or will not have the strength to maintain the bonus earnings. One notices in engineering shops that, while adult males and females are employed on production work, very few youngsters are so engaged. The unions insist that apprentices have to be 16, 17 or 18. They want no adults in the training. The reverse attitude is adopted and acted upon with production work.

The incidence of shift working is another factor, because we stop youngsters of 16 and 17 from doing shift work, and the growth in that type of work has restricted employment opportunities for the young.

We must consider these problems in detail in an attempt to remove the institutional barriers from the employment of young people, rather than ascribing every aspect of youth unemployment to political causes. Short-term measures are needed. The youth opportunities programme should be extended in a number of ways. We should not be comparing the statistics of Labour and Conservative Governments. Our task should be to identify the need and to establish whether it is being met.

The Department of Employment has a good case to take to the Treasury for an extension of the YOP in terms both of numbers and duration. There is a limit on how long youngsters may spend in the programme. However, with employment becoming more and more difficult to find, the Government should tell the Manpower Services Commission that they will agree to extend the time that a youngster may spend in a youth opportunities scheme so that young people are not forced out of the scheme into unemployment. If they are forced out, much of the value of the programme is undermined.

There should be greater provision of schemes other than work experience. The Government have succeeded in maintaining the numbers in the youth opportunities programme, but only by concentrating on the cheaper schemes and playing down the more expensive ones. However, the cheapest scheme—and for many, the most successful—is the work experience programme, and that needs extending. The problem with it is that it does not satisfy the needs of the roughest and the least qualified of our youngsters, because employers will not take them on to the works premises, and sponsors often will not take them up. These youngsters may be rough and inarticulate, but they are still entitled to a job.

The Department of Employment and the MSC must face up to the need for an expansion of opportunities for 18-year-olds. There is great pressure throughout the country to increase the allowance for this age group. The 16 and 17-year-olds are willingly taking up chances offered under the YOP, but the 18-year-olds often are not. There is evidence that the careers service and the Manpower Services Commission are having great difficulty with 18-year-olds because the allowance that is paid to them under the youth opportunities programme is not attractive enough.

The biggest problem that the Department of Employment faces is that of persuading the Treasury to increase the provision for the special temporary employment programme, not only for the 19 to 24-year-olds, but for the long-term unemployed among those over the age of 24. The Secretary of State misled the House when he said that the Government would maintain the STEP programme at 12,000. The Government cut it to 12,000, and they now intend to maintain the programme at that level. The previous Labour Government had a higher figure and proposed a higher figure still, but even that was inadequate. The figure for the long-term unemployed—people who have been unemployed for over a year—is expected to be 500,000 by 1982. Unemployment of two or three weeks or a month is no social disaster, but unem ployment of 12 months is a personal, social and family disaster. There will be about 500,000 long-term unemployed in 1982, and the Government intend to maintain provision for 12,000. Those two figures side by side show that there is a national problem. The Government must act now to try to alleviate the problem of the long-term unemployed.

The tragedy of our present circumstances is that the Department of Employment has been too preoccupied over the past 12 months with the problems of industrial relations, and too little with the problems of unemployment. The Department has lost too many battles in its arguments with the Treasury on behalf of the unemployed. I hope that this debate changes the balance of thinking within the Department of Employment, and I hope that it gives it strength in dealing with Treasury Ministers in order to give the unemployed a fair deal.