Lord Roberts of Conwy, Shadow Minister for Wales in the House of Lords, posed an important question yesterday:
"To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the latest figures for (a) total unemployment in the United Kingdom; and (b) claimants of unemployment benefit.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, in the quarter to October 2008, 1,864,000 people were ILO unemployed. In November 2008, 1,071,900 people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, stark and grim as these unemployment figures are—there are now more than 1 million claimants for unemployment benefit—does the Minister accept that these figures, and the figures in coming months, represent a key test of whether the Government’s policy of spending out of recession is actually working? That was something, incidentally, that the late Lord Callaghan said was impossible when he encountered recession during his premiership.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, of course the figures are disappointing, which is why the Government announced today a packet of measures that will help people to gain the right to training and to upgrading their skills to get back into employment as quickly as possible. On the central point, it is absolutely right to seek to stimulate the economy as we have done. The choice is between those who would be active in doing this and those who would do nothing. Of course, we will not have under this comparator the ability to evaluate the effects of the noble Lord’s party’s policy, which is to do nothing. We do not believe that these figures are the worst; there will be some more to come. Therefore, it is very important that we have active labour market policies. That is why the steps that we have taken on the banking system and in supporting small businesses—through deferrals of the small companies tax rate and dealing with HMRC’s flow of tax payments to help the liquidity of small businesses—are so important. That is the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do is to do nothing and let the economy and banking system implode."
Labour must not be allowed to propogate the fantasy that the Conservatives "would do nothing" about the economic crisis. Indeed frontbenchers have recently highlighted where the Government is failing to act.