1 FEBRUARY 1963, Page 4

Out of Work

Tan unemployment figures are chilling. Neither the weather nor the increase in social benefits announced last week makes them look any less so. When the weather broke at the week- end there were probably close to a million men and women out of work in Britain. The num- ber will certainly be going down fast now, and at the time of the next count in the middle of Feb- ruary a more accurate estimate of the number of unemploypd will be available. But last week's figures from the Ministry of Labour do show, no matter how vaguely, that unemployment created by economic circumstances is still the highest since the war. There are at least 630,000 'economic unemployed'; the total is possibly as high as 650,000 (it depends on the number of school-leavers who are wholly unemployed). The previous post-war peak was in 1959 when 620,000 people were out of work; only 530,000 were wholly unemployed then, compared with 605,000 now. And, once again, the figures show that four regions of Britain—Scotland, the North-East, Merseyside, and West Wales -are bearing the brunt of the suffering. The rate of unemploy- ment in the North-East is now three times higher than in London and the South-West. The figures demonstrate two things clearly. One : that bad weather is not just uncomfortable; it adds the in- sult of unemployment to the injury of cold houses and burst pipes—especially for workers in the construction industry, many of whom are not well enough paid to do much about the dis- comfort in their own homes. Two: the Govern- ment has still done little to attack the problem of long-term unemployment in the regions.

On the day before the figure of 814,632 was released, the Government announced a 10s. a week increase in all social benefits. In purely financial terms a 17.5 per cent. increase in social benefits for a single man may seem generous; to a married man with children it will seem much less than generous. Even so, as an interim in- crease it is not really too little--but it is late. Why was it not introduced last November? Nor should the increase be used as an excuse by the Government to forget about social benefits. The subsistence level on which they are based was in- troduced during post-war austerity. This is sup- posed to be the affluent post-war society. It is also time that the Government started to think about the introduction of graduated unemploy- ment benefits related to earnings; for the im- plications of affluence must be accepted too.