The ranks of the long-term jobless were swollen by 75,000 in the three months to January, reaching 1.03 million, Department of Employment figures showed yesterday.
About one-fifth of the long-term jobless are aged between 18 and 24. Many of these people have never had paid work. This group is likely to be a main target of the Government's forthcoming scheme to tackle long-term joblessness.
In the year to January, the number of long-term unemployed surged by 283,000 and was more than double the number of benefit claimants without work since October 1990, when the latest upward trend began. Joblessness among people out of work for six months or more leapt by 100,000 in the three months to January, to 1.621 million, and has doubled since this category, known as 'longer-term' unemployment, began to rise two years ago. Official figures show that after being out of work for six months or more, the jobless face a sharp fall in job opportunities.
The number of people unemployed and out of work for more than five years rose by 1,000 to 118,000 in the three months to January but was down by 6,000 in the latest year, reflecting a strong economy five years ago.
The increase was spread across all regions, although the South- east, including Greater London, the South-west and East Anglia were the hardest hit.
Long-term unemployment soared 54 per cent in Greater London, to 167,500. In all of the South-east, the total climbed by 65.4 per cent to 307,300.
The Government was accused of letting the rise in long-term unemployed reach 'crisis proportions' by John Smith, the Labour leader, at Prime Minister's Questions. It was, he said, 'appalling' that 20 per cent of them were aged 18 to 24, 'many of whom have never had a chance to work'.
John Major said the numbers were too high, adding that further help, on top of existing schemes, was being considered.
Mr Smith called for councils to be allowed to use cash from asset sales 'to build and improve homes and get people back to work', but Mr Major argued those rules had already been eased and that Mr Smith failed to acknowledge that unemployment was rising 'right across Europe and the world' under governments of all political colours. He accused Mr Smith of offering 'sound-bite politics'.
The latest figures follow hard on the heels of a rise above 3 million in the overall number of people unemployed and claiming benefit, for the first time in nearly six years. Labour market economists expect the jobless total to hit a post-war record this year. The number of long-term jobless is also expected to continue rising this year, peaking perhaps at 1.35 million, but largely as a result of government measures to curb the number of people on the benefit register.
The latest figures revived fears that inflationary pressures would be rekindled, once overall unemployment began to fall. Charlie Bean, of the London School of Economics, estimates that without new government policies, inflation would begin to rise once unemployment fell to 2.2 million.
This is because the demoralised long-term unemployed are unattractive to employers and exert less downward pressure on other workers' pay and wage inflation. If the long-term jobless are excluded from the total, unemployment has been broadly flat since mid-1991.
John Philpott, of the Employment Policy Institute, called for a partnership employment initiative, in which public and private sectors work together to provide training and community work, with publicly financed wages.Reuse content