Unemployment in the UK

Part of Opposition Day — [18th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 7th October 2008.

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions 7:45 pm, 7th October 2008

Basically, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that that shows that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the 5 million figure is not the right one for him to use. I hope that he will not use it in future.

I want to make it clear to the House that we have not been sitting on our hands. We have not been complacent. For the last six months, my Department has been preparing for a wide range of economic scenarios. I want to take the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell through what we are planning to do. There are three lessons in particular that I want to share with him.

The first lesson is that we should maintain the active approach to getting people back to work. We have looked at the lessons of our labour market history, and the worst possible thing that we could do at this moment is to relax the activity and obligations required in our back-to-work system. How do we know that? We know it because it is exactly what the Conservative Government did in the 1980s, when they took all conditionality off unemployment benefits. That meant that unemployment rose further than it need have done, to 3 million.

We will not repeat that mistake, and we will maintain the conditionality in the system. Why will we do that? We will do it because conditionality means giving people support and requiring them to take it up. If it is more difficult for people to find work, it would be extraordinary at this stage to start relaxing that conditionality or to provide people with less support.

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