Unemployment: Jobs crisis 'could tear nation apart'

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THE GROWING tide of unemployment could lead to violence and social disintegration, political leaders warned last night as the Government came under growing pressure to produce new measures to stem it.

With the number on the dole in Britain having passed three million last week, Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, called for an emergency international package to rescue Europe from the effects of high unemployment.

His theme was echoed by Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, who said that Britain was 'precariously balanced on the edge of a major economic catastrophe'.

'Our country is in danger of drifting apart, divided by the scourge of unemployment, discrimination, low opportunities and neglect.'

Labour will launch unemployment rallies in Conservative marginal constituencies this week. Gordon Brown, shadow Chancellor, said: 'It seems from the inactivity of the Government that unemployment will last till Doomsday if Mr Major's Cabinet is all that confronts it.'

Tory hopes are pinned on a Budget which will be accompanied by an unemployment package that will include benefit changes to ease the long-term unemployed into jobs, further education and voluntary work. But Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, still faces a painful dilemma over whether to increases taxes to cut borrowing and risk choking off a slender economic recovery.

Jobs could also be hit by the pressure for spending cuts. Whitehall insisted that a letter sent to all government departments asking them to work out options for 2.5 or 5 per cent cuts was 'standard practice' at the outset of the spending round. But it will be seen in some departments as a veiled 'cut or face tax increases' ultimatum aimed at next November when a second 1993 budget and the spending statement will coincide.

Yesterday, it was left to Sir Norman Fowler, Tory party chairman, to defend the Government. Speaking in his Sutton Coldfield constituency, he said: 'We know that the right kind of government action can and will turn the tide on unemployment. We have brought unemployment down before. We will do it again.'

Mr Delors, who was attending a science seminar in Oxford yesterday, called for an informal meeting of the G7 industrialised nations in April to agree on world-wide economic measures to boost jobs.

Joblessless was at the root of Europe's difficulties. 'The common difficulty in Europe is the increase in unemployment with very dramatic consequences of social exclusion, violence, and racism.'

He added: 'We are entering into a new period because it is not possible to live with nearly three million in each major country unemployed . . . It seems to me that the world economy lacks leadership, lacks long-term vision.'

Mr Ashdown, speaking at Saffron Walden, Essex, launched his most ferocious attack yet on the Prime Minister, accusing him of sleeping in office while one million people lost their jobs. 'Your Government fumbles while Britain fails,' he said.

About a dozen middle-ranking army officers serving in Bosnia will be among more than 600 servicemen receiving compulsory redundancy notices from the Ministry of Defence on Thursday.

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