Labour marginals hit hardest by rising unemployment

As the economy is hit by further bad news, <i>IoS</i> research findings fuel fears within the Government that a 'middle-class recession' could cost the Prime Minister the next election
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Unemployment is rising faster in Labour's most vulnerable seats and in the constituencies of nearly the entire Cabinet, new figures reveal today.

Scores of Labour marginals have suffered the fastest-rising unemployment levels over the past 12 months, fuelling fears in the party that the recession will cost Gordon Brown the next election.

Some 18 out of 23 cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, have also seen above-average increases in unemployment in their constituencies, compared with the rest of the country.

The figures will cause alarm on the government benches amid fears that voters hit hardest by the recession will ditch Labour at the next election.

As talks continued over a multimillion-pound bailout of car manufacturers, the head of Barclays bank said yesterday he believed the recession will last for two more years. John Varley also told the BBC that banks should apologise for their handling of the credit crisis.

Figures to be published this week are expected to bring more bad news for the economy, including statistics on productivity and consumer spending. While unemployment has always been high in Labour heartlands, research by The Independent on Sunday suggests that Britain is suffering a "middle-class recession", where numbers of new unemployment benefit claimants are soaring in the swing seats won by Tony Blair in 1997.

The research, based on data from the House of Commons Library, follows last week's official figures showing that those claiming unemployment benefit rose above one million in November for the first time in nearly eight years. Those signing on reached 1.07 million, while those out of work over all totalled 1.86 million. Experts say unemployment could top two million this month.

Many Labour marginals suffering the fastest-rising unemployment are in the Midlands, the heart of the UK car industry, and the south of England.

The Prime Minister enjoyed a recent "bounce" in the polls as fears about the economy deepened, but a poll yesterday widened the Conservatives' lead over Labour to seven points.

The research reveals that no constituency has escaped rising unemployment since November 2007. The lowest rises in claimants are in central London and the Scottish highlands and islands. Real number increases – rather than percentages – between November 2007 and November 2008 were calculated for every constituency to uncover the true scale of those queuing at job centres. For example, George Osborne's Tatton constituency in Cheshire saw a 70 per cent increase in claimants, but there were 334 new claimants over the year. By contrast, in Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's Redditch seat, where Labour has a majority of just 2,716, there was a 62.3 per cent increase but in real numbers this was 607.

Some 59 out of Labour's 115 most marginal seats witnessed increases of more than 418 claimants, the average for the country. In total, 225 Labour seats, 64 per cent of the party's Westminster total, had above-average unemployment rises, compared with 21 per cent of Conservative and 22 per cent of Liberal Democrats.

Marginal seats with the highest new claimant counts include Halifax – hit by the banking crisis and where Labour has a majority of 3,417 – with an increase of 931. In Crawley, West Sussex, where Labour has a majority of just 37, unemployment claimants rose by 837 in the past year, or 107.2 per cent. Other seats at risk with fast-rising unemployment are clustered around the Midlands and the M4 corridor, including Burton, Gloucester, Milton Keynes, South Swindon and North Swindon.

The cabinet minister with the fastest-rising unemployment is Environment Secretary Hilary Benn in Leeds Central. He is sitting on a healthy majority of 11,866, but there were 903 new claimants in the past year.

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