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I would like to make several brief points in the short time that is left. I believe that there are two glaring omissions from the Bill. The first is the failure to make special provision for carers. All hon. Members will recognise that carers are a badly overlooked and deserving section of the community who are in desperate need of support. I understand and welcome the fact that in Committee the Government pledged to look at the problem at a later stage.
The second omission is the failure to recognise the special needs of a new category of the needy—the long-term unemployed. It is now widely accepted that long-term unemployment is the greatest cause of poverty in this country. It is a new problem as only 250,000 people could be classified as long-term unemployed during the 1950s and 1960s but there are well over 1 million people now who have been unemployed for more than a year.
Obviously some of these people are abusing the system but the great majority are not. They desperately want jobs, have lost them in declining industries, lack the skills for new jobs and are sinking deeper and deeper into frustration because they cannot find work.
When I advocated special help for the long-term unemployed in Committee, I was told, surprisingly, that there was no evidence that the long-term unemployed had special problems. I was told that the short-term unemployed are more likely to be in debt than the long-term unemployed. That is obvious, because the short-term unemployed are adjusting to a new and reduced living standard. However, the greater needs of those on a low standard of living for a long time must be clear to all hon. Members and are clear to me every time I visit the depressed parts of my constituency. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to allow his sound common sense to override the patchy conclusions of selective research into the matter.
Another argument against provision for the long-term unemployed was that we lack the resources. The introduction of a special premium after a year's unemployment would cost some £500 million. I accept that that is a lot of money but it is well short of the £1 billion expenditure that was irresponsibly urged by the Opposition. I urge the Government to consider the possibility of introducing the principle of a premium, even at a lower rate, which is affordable.
Another omission from the Bill is its failure to address the issue of early retirement, and reference has already been made to that point. I believe that the greatest cause of unemployment today is the shake-up that has been caused by the necessary introduction of new technology. That technology means that, while there is more wealth created, there is less work to go round. One of the most obvious ways of dealing with that problem is to lower the age for qualification for the job release scheme to 60. That interim measure would create 100,000 new jobs at a cost of less than £500 million. The long-term solution must be a reduction in the retirement age, for all those who want it, to 60 and for certain manual workers to 55. I call upon the Government to implement that, as it is essential to tackle unemployment which has become the number one issue in this country.