Middle England suffers biggest rise in jobless

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Indy Politics
Long-term unemployment has hit the Tory heartlands harder than any other part of the country, according to House of Commons library figures issued today.

The figures, released by the Labour Party, will make grim reading for ministers seeking to avert a collapse in Conservative support at the local elections on Thursday.

They show that the highest rises for long-term unemployment have occurred in district council areas in middle England, where the voters are threatening to stay at home in droves in the elections.

Labour's employment spokesman, Ian McCartney, said last night they explained the Government's failure to rekindle the feel-good factor among traditional Tory supporters, and the reason for widespread insecurity among voters.

The biggest percentage increase in long-term unemployment in Britain was recorded in Elmbridge, a council with no overall control but a Conservative majority in the stockbroker belt of Esher, Surrey.

The number of those unemployed for more than two years has gone up by 1,136 per cent in Elmbridge since 1992. The area also recorded the biggest increase in the number of jobless for more than one year.

Mr McCartney said: "Long- term unemployment and job insecurity has rocketed in Tory council areas since the last general election, and the Conservative Party will pay a heavy price at the polls."

He said the Jobseeker's Allowance would make the insecurity worse in middle England, because it would cut eligibility for unemployment benefit from 12 months to six months.

"People in middle England are finding it difficult to get back into jobs when they are hit by unemployment. The Jobseeker's Allowance will undermine family life," he said. The allowance is to be introduced from April next year, but Ann Widdecombe, the employment minister, has told Mr McCartney that not all employment officers will be fully trained in time.

In spite of assurances by Ms Widdecombe that frontline officers would be trained to do their jobs, Mr McCartney warned there could be legal challenges if inadequately trained civil servants disallowed benefit claims.

"It means untrained officers will be stopping people's benefits. It is totally and wholly wrong. There is a question of whether this is legal or not for an untrained officers to leave some families destitute," he said.

The employment minister said: "Let us just be clear that I did not give a commitment that all officers will be trained by 1 April, 1996, in effect setting myself a target of 100 per cent in achieving training for front- line staff."

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