By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
The Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions with responsibility for Employment, Chris Grayling, was responsible for answering an Opposition day debate on unemployment yesterday afternoon.
Labour Members, both from the frontbench, and through the Shadow Minister, Liam Byrne, issued a number of attacks on the Coalition's record, some more based upon reality than others, which Mr Grayling was able to swat away with relative ease.
Mr Grayling was then able to set out the Coalition's achievements on unemployment, especially youth unemployment. First, he explained why figures from the last month showed signs of labour market stabilisation:
"It is because over the past month, employment has risen by 38,000 and unemployment has risen by 16,000, a number that is considerably exceeded by the change in activity levels. The youth unemployment figure, excluding full-time students, has remained static, and the jobseeker’s allowance claimant count has risen by 3,000, whereas the total number of people who have moved off incapacity benefit and income support as a result of our welfare reforms is 10,000. Those are one month’s figures and certainly do not reflect a long-term change, but they are at least a sign of some stabilisation in the labour market."
Mr Grayling then explained why the Coalition's overall economic strategy is preventing unemployment from being even higher:
"The first priority has to be to help get business moving and growing again. That involves having a stable financial environment in which businesses are confident that this country is not going to find itself in the economic predicament that some other nations are facing. We therefore remain determined to address the deficit challenge, bring our public finances under control and send a message to the world that Britain understands the challenges that we face and is trying to do something about them. That is why we saw such a good response in the bond markets this morning to this country’s attempts to sell its bonds, and why other countries are facing difficulties. I believe that if we had not taken those measures, businesses would not be investing in this country or considering employing people here. I believe that unemployment would be higher than it is today."
Mr Grayling made reference to the measures that "within the confines of the financial constraints upon us, do everything possible to encourage and support business":
"They include investment in infrastructure; an expansion of the regional growth fund; increased capital allowances in enterprise zones; and measures to underpin bank lending to small businesses, so that they can access the finance that they need to grow. Those are essential parts of ensuring that in exceptionally difficult times, businesses at least have the best foundations that we can possibly give them to enable them to grow."
Mr Grayling then heralded the Coalition's apprenticeships scheme:
"More than 100,000 new apprenticeships have been announced since the general election—the total across the Parliament will take apprenticeship provision far beyond where it has been previously. We believe that an apprenticeship that combines training and a real job for many young people is a better vehicle for delivering a long-term career option for them than simply putting them into a temporary six-month work experience placement at significant cost to the taxpayer, as we experienced with the future jobs fund."
In answer to a question about what the Coalition is doing to help small and medium sized businesses create jobs, Mr Grayling answered:
"I hope that the subsidy that is paid to employers through the youth contract will be attractive to large and small employers. We are clear that the role that small businesses play is important. Opposition Members raised issues about unemployment among the older generation and I believe that our new enterprise allowance, which is proving successful in the areas where it has been operating so far and is now available throughout the country, will provide a real route for people who want to build their own SME in future."
Finally, in summing up, Mr Grayling concluded:
"Mr Deputy Speaker, do not listen to what you hear from the Opposition about the Government doing nothing about unemployment. We have a comprehensive range of support, which I believe can make a real difference to the unemployed. We face huge economic challenges and some of the most difficult economic circumstances that any Government have faced. However, unemployment is and will remain a priority for the Government. We will do everything that we can to tackle it."
The full session can be read on Hansard.
> There is some outside support for Grayling's view that the labour market is showing surprising signs of resilience and stability, from Chris Giles in today's FT (£).