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Jobless total soars in ministers' seats

UNEMPLOYMENT has more than doubled over the past two years in constituencies held by Cabinet ministers, according to figures compiled by Frank Dobson, Labour's employment spokesman. Since November 1990 the jobless total in their 20 constituencies has risen on average by 108 per cent, against 68 per cent for the country as a whole.

The rise may reflect the preponderance of Cabinet ministers with seats in the South, where the recession hit harder earlier. The rises take the total unemployed in their constituencies from 34,000 to 71,000. The sharpest increases have come in Surrey South West and St Albans, the seats of Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, and Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, which both saw increases of more than 200 per cent.

Unemployment in John Major's Huntingdon seat rose by 155 per cent to 4,318. Only four Cabinet ministers - Malcolm Rifkind and Ian Lang, the two with Scots constituencies, and David Hunt in Wirral West and William Waldegrave in Bristol West - saw percentage increases below the average, although the total number of jobless at 6,359 is highest in Mr Waldegrave's constituency.

Mr Dobson said: 'If this is what they do to their own voters, what hope is there for the rest of the country?' He said Labour would demand an employment strategy in advance of the March Budget. John Smith, the Labour leader, added: 'Government have to take responsibility for jobs - and that means active government'.

An emergency employment programme was needed, he said, because 'recovery won't happen until we get rid of the fear of unemployment'. Investment and training were needed to produce high-wage, high-skill jobs that would help rebuild the economy.

The rise in unemployment could accelerate to almost 50,000 a month over the next three months to take the total to more than 3 million by the time of the Budget, the TUC has warned.

The politically sensitive 3 million figure will be reached in either January or February as the monthly rate of increase rises from its current rate of 32,600. Seasonal factors and prolonged recession will be responsible, TUC statisticians believe.

The analysis shows that more than half the job losses since 1989 have been in manufacturing. Mechanical engineering lost 137,000 jobs, while electronics and electrical engineering lost 91,000. Other sectors of the economy badly hit are construction, which has lost 240,000 jobs since 1989, and retailing (130,000).

Congress House has launched a job loss monitor and is asking unions to collect detailed evidence on the monthly total of redundancies in their industries.