With the publication of the latest unemployment figures, the government allowed itself a little moment of smugness as the figures appeared to be going in the right
direction. Coalition ministers claimed credit for this just days after they introduced the new Work Programme: a cheeky if understandable piece of political chicanery.
But David Cameron cannot afford to be smug on this issue. I know there is serious concern about youth unemployment in government and a growing understanding that the new system will not address the
needs of the under-25s. Losing a significant proportion of this generation to joblessness is not something this society can afford. Politically it may seem impossible for this government to
alienate young people any more than it has already, but if youth unemployment creeps closer to 25 per cent, it’s difficult to see how the coalition will win them back. This is a particular
problem for Lib Dems in the university constituencies where they were once so strong.
I have always assumed that the reason Tories don’t really get it on unemployment is that very few Tory MPs have experience of it within their circle of family and friends. I also thought it
was probably not a priority issue for Tory MPs in their constituencies. A cursory look at the latest statistics bears this out. The English constituencies most affected by unemployment are all
Labour. These include Liam Byrne’s Birmingham Hodge Hill, Louise Ellman’s Liverpool Riverside, David Lammy’s Tottenham and Alan Johnson’s Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all but a handful of the constituencies with the lowest rates of unemployment are Conservative. But a closer look, shows something very interesting indeed. Two of the
highest percentage increases since 2006 are in Liam Fox’s North Somerset (up 124 per cent) and David Cameron’s Witney (up 121 per cent). In England only Sam Gyimah’s East Surrey
(up 156 per cent), Paul Beresford’s Mole Valley (up 131 per cent) and Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath (up 129 per cent) are higher. The numbers are relatively small, but for each person
involved this is no less painful. Cameron can argue that the figures represent the Labour years and it’s true that there are nine fewer people on the dole in Witney since his government came
to power. But he can’t afford to be complacent.
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