The Government yesterday unveiled a £3.1 billion package of support for jobseekers after new figures showed unemployment has soared to its highest level since Labour came to power in 1997.
The number of people looking for work jumped by 177,000 in the three months to February to reach 2.1 million – the biggest quarterly rise since 1991 and the worst total since just before Labour won the general election in May 1997.
The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance increased for the 13th month in a row in March, up by 73,700 to 1.46 million, the highest total since September 1997.
Alistair Darling responded in his Budget by announcing plans to create or support 250,000 jobs as part of a package of measures to help jobseekers, particularly the young.
Around 150,000 of the new jobs will be created through a fund aimed at local authorities and third sector groups.
By next January, every 18 to 24-year-old approaching a year out of work will be guaranteed a new job, training or a paid work experience place.
Mr Darling said the Government was determined not to return to the days when a whole generation of young people found themselves “abandoned to a future on the scrapheap”.
He announced that the Jobcentre Plus network would receive an additional £1.7 billion, on top of £1.3 billion previously announced so that “everyone” could receive high-quality support.
Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell said it had been a “Budget for jobs”, adding that £3.1 billion would be invested in helping jobseekers.
He revealed that 100,000 jobs would be set aside for young people in sectors including hospitality and caring, pledging: “These 250,000 jobs will be real opportunities, to give young people skills and the chance to experience the pride and purpose of work.
“We will focus on quality opportunities which will benefit young people, but also benefit Britain. We will not make the mistake of pushing people into dead-end schemes which have no purpose.”
A raft of other gloomy figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed continuing cuts in manufacturing jobs, a record low number of vacancies and the lowest rise in average earnings since 1991.
Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “Behind these statistics are the shattered lives of millions.
‘‘Labour have reached another grim milestone with unemployment now higher than when they came to power.
“This Government is sleepwalking through this unemployment crisis, casting millions of people adrift. No amount of Labour spin can cover up the fact that this Government closed a job centre every week in 2008.”