THE number of people in Halifax who would work if only they could find a job has doubled to more than 5,200 since 2008.
Labour MP Linda Riordan is so alarmed she has appealed for Government intervention.
In a debate at Westminster, she said: “I don’t want to represent a town where unemployment might reach 20 per cent, which is where it could be heading unless something is done.”
Mrs Riordan told Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb the Government might be “misunderstanding” towns like Halifax if it believed that private-sector jobs were going to replace all those disappearing in the public sector.
She said: “Calderdale Council is at the heart of Halifax and the Calderdale economy, and the reduction in council budgets is hurting.
“We need a strong public and private sector to ensure Halifax’s economic and social fabric is held together.”
Mrs Riordan said too many regeneration schemes and new projects had been axed and too many Government policies were making the poor even poorer, instead of giving them the hope of work.
She said figures showed that the proportion of people aged 24 and under who are out of work has gone up more than 25 per cent in past year and in the 25 to 49 age group, it is up over 15 per cent.
Of those who are economically active in Halifax, only 66 per cent actually have jobs.
The number receiving Jobseekers’ Allowance has risen by 97 per cent from 2,088 in December 2006 to 4,114.
“Despite what might have been stereotyped about benefit claimants; they are people who want to work; need to work and they don’t want handouts.”
Mrs Riordan pressed the Government to make every effort to protect jobs at the Lloyds Banking Group, which is 40 per cent owned by the taxpayer, and to put more into job creation and regeneration schemes in the town.
Calder Valley Conservative MP Craig Whittaker said the jobless figure “may be a little far fetched” and he highlighted companies expanding in Elland and Ripponden.
But Mrs Riordan said the figures spoke for themselves.
She said: “I called this debate, not to make overtly party political points but to put on record the current unemployment figures which I find alarming and to seek some answers and assurances from the Minister about what can be done.”
“I want to hear some answers for what can be done, not excuses for what hasn’t been done.
“I would be grateful for the Minister to outline what his short and long term plan is for reducing unemployment in Halifax today before the terrible consequences of further unemployment with people out of work becomes a crisis, and the whole social fabric of the town ripped apart,” she said.
The Employment Minister confirmed that the proportion of people in Halifax claiming jobseekers’ allowance was 6.4 per cent compared to 4.6 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber and 4 per cent nationally.
“I take the point made about particular pressures on the town but part of the Government’s strategy is to move away from some of the schemes that unemployed people have faced in the past.
“Although many people are on benefits through no fault of their own, we have allowed ourselves to get to a situation in Halifax and in many other such towns, in which nearly 5,000 people have consistently been on Employment and Support Allowance or incapacity benefit for the last 10 years.
Mr Webb said in relation to public sector job losses that a substantial rebalancing of public spending had to be done.
“We cannot scale back public spending without significantly scaling back public sector employment, particularly if we are to protect pensions and so on.
“We agree something must be done and it is being done at both the macro and micro level - I hope the hon. Lady will continue this conversation with her local Jobcentre Plus district manager.”
Steven Leigh, head of policy at the Halifax-based Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said the country was technically in a recession, the growth figures were consistently disappointing, there were terrible worries over the Eurozone and many firms were struggling to stay in business.
“It is against this background that we are trying to create jobs, especially for young people.
“But it is made more difficult when more than 37 per cent of 16-year-olds leaving school can’t read or write to an acceptable level and they are competing with people who have these skills but have lost their jobs.”
Mr Leigh said the Government should stop making employers pay National Insurance on every new job they create - it’s a tax on employment, he said.