Unemployment in the UK

Part of Opposition Day — [18th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:50 pm on 7th October 2008.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 9:50 pm, 7th October 2008

The jokes might be fun, but they are made at the expense of the Opposition, because at this time of all times in this place, with all that is going on in the broader country, all we have heard from the man who purports to speak for the Opposition on business is that there should be less borrowing, less taxation and less regulation. Conservative Members should run away and turn their televisions on. At this moment of all moments, borrowing and taxation equal public expenditure, the very public expenditure that we shall use here and elsewhere to lessen the impact of any slowdown. Given his contribution, the Opposition spokesman cannot be taken seriously.

Yesterday, a senior member of the Tory Front Bench said:

"Families are deeply worried about their savings, their homes and their jobs, and it is up to us to try to work together to get the country through this current crisis. I do not think that the British public would thank us if they saw happening here in this House of Commons what everyone saw happening in the American Congress. That is why we offer to look constructively at any proposals brought forward by the British Government."—[ Hansard, 6 October 2008; Vol. 480, c. 23.]

I fully endorse that. We have had nothing in that spirit from either Chris Grayling or Alan Duncan. They could have been consensual. They claim to be consensual on the issue of unemployment and welfare reform. [Interruption.] With the greatest respect, I thought that I might speak to the motion and our amendment rather than take a back-of-a-cigarette-packet approach. They could have recognised that intervention is essential, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said. They could have said that a lot has been done to great effect over the past 10 years in assisting those currently and previously unemployed. They could have headlined that they will keep up the pressure on us to ensure that the pace of welfare reform is greater not lesser. They did none of that. Instead, we heard a complete dismissal from the hon. Gentleman of all that Jobcentre Plus has done for so many of our communities throughout this country over the years; work that means that whatever the severity of any forthcoming slowdown we are better placed than we have ever been to help and assist those who are unemployed for however long. For it to be so glibly dismissed by the hon. Gentlemen defies belief.

I do not claim a monopoly of concern about unemployment and I accept that there is no such monopoly among Labour Members, but it would be hard to credit Opposition spokesmen with that from their speeches, which is a shame. Among other things they could have apologised for, as so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have so eloquently put it, was the scandalous waste of human talent in the 1980s and 1990s when the Conservatives were in charge, when there was no intervention of any substance to assist the unemployed and no conditionality, and when there was precisely the fiddling of figures that is the charge falsely laid against us at this stage. They could have apologised for putting so many of our people and communities on the proverbial scrapheap, causing heartbreak and destruction.

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