Unemployment in the UK

Part of Opposition Day — [18th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:10 pm on 7th October 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn 9:10 pm, 7th October 2008

I will not give way at present, as the hon. Gentleman has just come in and we are nearing the end of our debate.

The Conservative legacy in my constituency was threefold: mass redundancies, mass unemployment and mass depopulation. My constituency of Ynys Môn or Anglesey was the only county in England and Wales that in two successive censuses—those of the '80s and '90s—saw a decline in its population. That decline was caused by high unemployment, when young people and their families had to leave the area to find employment elsewhere. That is the legacy of the Tory years of the '80s and '90s.

So let me give the answer to the question about what the Conservatives did for Anglesey or Ynys Môn: they gave us two decades of mass unemployment, decline and stagnation, and two recessions—deep recessions that bit very hard and hurt the people I was helping out in my previous job. My hon. Friend Mr. Devine mentioned the famous, or infamous, comment by Lord Lamont—and we know who was advising him at the time—that unemployment was a price worth paying. My constituents, young and old, actually paid that price over the two decades of the '80s and '90s.

The story of the last 10 years is rather different. Unemployment—both headline and real—is down considerably. Employment levels are up by some 7 per cent. One of the highest increases in Wales is in my constituency, where we have seen a 29 per cent. increase in employment levels. That is the real story of Wales today under this Labour Government, compared with Wales in the '80s and '90s under the Conservative Government.

That did not happen by chance. The new deal for the unemployed was a policy, paid for, as has been said, by a windfall tax on the utilities. I am rather fond of windfall taxes, and I have tried to encourage the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go down that road again to help to tackle some of the root causes of hard-core unemployment that the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire discussed. This Government invested in helping the unemployed back to work through that scheme and others. Labour Members rightly believed that unemployment was not a price worth paying—it was a problem worth sorting. During the past 10 years, we have done our best to sort that problem out.

Labour also introduced the minimum wage, and, again, that did not happen by accident. The policy was opposed by the Opposition. I hear today that Jenny Willott, who speaks from the Front Bench, is not happy that we are raising the level of the minimum wage; I am not sure whether that is Liberal policy. I recall that when the minimum wage was introduced in my constituency, the wages of hundreds of families doubled from £1.80 an hour to £3.60 an hour, giving dignity to families young and old.

By August, unemployment in my constituency had fallen to 4.2 per cent.; it had reduced by 53 per cent. Too many people remain unemployed, but Ynys Môn is not now top of the Welsh league of unemployment; it is halfway down that table, and the levels are well below those of the 1980s. There are black spots of unemployment in my constituency, which is why I intervened on the Secretary of State about the proposal by the Department for Work and Pensions to close a job centre in one of those black spots. It is located in a rural area where it is difficult for people to get to other job centres, as they will be required to do. I understand the back-up provided by the internet and various other things at the contact centre, but that contact centre will be moved. I am glad that he has agreed to meet me, because it is the wrong time to close job centres when unemployment is undisputedly rising. I hope that the closure of the centre at Amlwch in my constituency will not go ahead and that people will be able to get the face-to-face contact that they deserve.

This economic downturn has been caused by a number of factors: the world credit crunch; the global financial crisis, which we have debated today, and high fuel prices and energy costs. They are having an impact on businesses in my constituency and across Wales and the United Kingdom. A cut in jobs is inevitable, but I believe that the UK is better placed than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, when two deep recessions had an impact on constituents across the UK.

The largest employers in my constituency include an aluminium smelter works and Stena Line at the port of Holyhead, both of which face major challenges from the high increases in fuel prices, as do other companies. All energy intensive users across the UK, from paper mills to brick and cement works and aluminium smelters, face similar problems. I declare an interest, because I chair the all-party group on the aluminium industry. Electricity prices are too high in the UK, they make British manufacturing less competitive and they could lead to big job losses. According to The Times yesterday, the price of electricity in the UK is four times higher than in France.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website