I greatly welcome the improvement, but is the Minister aware of the resentment in Southend that areas with lower unemployment receive loans, grants and subsidies for job creation? As the committed Conservative that we all know her to be, will she and her colleagues at the Department endeavour to get rid of the absurd distortions in the labour market and try to establish a level playing field so that Southend gets a fair deal?
I have to say to my hon. Friend that, for one moment, I thought that he was about to ask for equalisation for Southend by getting some European moneys. However, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that, even without such moneys, Southend is doing very well. Long-term unemployment has fallen by 12 per cent. since last year. Youth unemployment has fallen by 15 per cent. Retail opportunities are creating more than 600 new jobs. Vacancies are up by 4.9 per cent. and placings are at their highest level since November 1990. Good old Southend is doing quite well.
But is the Minister aware that there is one forecast redundancy in Southend, East which I would greatly regret? It would be most unfortunate if the Tories kicked out the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and deprived us of the opportunity of doing so at the next election.
I welcome those figures. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the combination of the pursuit of low inflation and further measures to promote productivity offers the best hope for jobs in the future?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Employment is rising and unemployment is falling in Britain far faster than in the EC as a whole, especially in countries with minimum wages, such as France and Spain, where youth unemployment is two and three times the British rate respectively.
Is the Minister aware that one in three jobs offered to young adults is paying below subsistence level? Is he also aware that those under 18 often get as little as £45 a week? Could he live on that? Could he plan a future, get a mortgage, get married and bring up a family on that? Will he tell us how he could do those things on poverty-level wages?
The hon. Lady totally ignores the fact that under this Government pay at all levels has risen sharply; that is so for the low-paid as well. A single man in the bottom 10 per cent. of earnings has seen take-home pay increase by almost a quarter more than inflation under this Government. The hon. Lady may like to know that that same person would have seen his pay fall under the previous Labour Government.
Will my hon. Friend please help me? In 1990–91, with unemployment going up in my constituency, I had the papers on to me every month asking what would happen about unemployment and what the Government intended to do about it. In the past two years, and in the past 18 months in particular, unemployment has dropped substantially. We are now down to a figure of 2,000 unemployed, which is well below the national average, yet the papers have not been on to me once. What should I do about it?
It is the old adage that good news often is not news whereas bad news is news. We have a lot of good news in the British economy. Exports are at record levels, productivity is rising by 6 per cent. a year and manufacturing output is up by 5 per cent. a year. That is the best way of ensuring not only more jobs, but more high-paid, high-skill jobs in the British economy. That is what we are now getting.