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

I would say to him that there is a package available to him now that was not there in the '80s.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell could have gone further, been honest and explained how less public expenditure, in terms of the magnitude that the Conservatives are referring to, and the whole notion of a shrinking state helps any of the unemployed people in this country. We got a sub-prime cabaret from the Little and Large of the Tory Front Bench. That is a real shame, because we are discussing a serious matter.

The Conservatives are playing the same game of smoke and mirrors with this issue as they are playing across the piece on policy, to hide the wasteland and absence of any Conservative policy. They propose either what we are already doing or what we already propose to do and claim that as their own as though it were radical. I want the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell to help me, the Government and the country with the welfare reform agenda, as he promises to. I want him to make clear exactly where he stands on every aspect of our Green Paper, subsequent White Paper and Bill. If he is serious about a consensus and in thinking that we need substantive welfare reform, which has been outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, we will work with him. However, given his contribution, I fear that we will be waiting a long time. Whatever the rhetoric—heightened, sub-prime or otherwise—in this place, it is simply not good enough to condemn the progress made by initiatives such as Jobcentre Plus and the other significant progress on getting people back into work.

Are there problems and difficulties? Yes, there are, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in no uncertain terms. Do we have a monopoly on caring? No, of course we do not. However, we collectively have the experience of the '80s and '90s and it is important that there should be a serious and substantive debate on this matter.

It is no accident that there was a Celtic tinge to the contributions from my hon. Friends. My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), for Livingston (Mr. Devine) and for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) all spoke, as did my hon. Friend Mr. Davidson, who made a point about decomplexification. They were not wallowing in the past, as was suggested by the Conservatives. They recognised that we cannot go back to the '80s and '90s and that we cannot have the non-intervention, "not our fault, guv" approach that the Conservative Government took in those decades. It is time that there was some consensus in this House. Whatever the depth of the current downturn, and however much harder it makes it to find work, it is not a reason for despair, as has been suggested by some Conservative Members—not least because of what we have already put in place.

My right hon. Friend said clearly that we should treat the current downturn as a spur across the Dispatch Box to ensure that we get even more help to those who need it to overcome challenges—not by fiddling figures or consigning people to inactive benefits and still less by slackening the pace of welfare reform, but by ensuring that we have high expectations, effective support and real obligations not for the minority, but for everyone. We know and understand the lessons of history and we want to get to a stage at which this time, whatever the level of unemployment, nobody in this country will be written off or left behind. As is clearly stated in the Government amendment, we will build on the progress that we have already made to make sure that we do not return to the shameful history and experience of unemployment, perpetrated by the Conservative party in this country.

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