Tebbit advice to Merthyr unemployed 'move to get jobs'

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Lord TebbitImage source, BBC news grab
Image caption,
Lord Tebbit met students from Merthyr Tydfil College who made a film about welfare reform

An ex-minister who once advised the jobless to get on their bikes says Merthyr Tydfil's unemployed should consider moving to find work.

Lord Tebbit was being interviewed by Merthyr Tydfil College students who made a film about the potential effects of the UK government's welfare reform.

The former Conservative party chairman said people in the UK should follow the example of those in Poland and Hungary.

The UK government says its reforms will encourage the jobless back to work.

When asked whether people in Merthyr should get on their bikes and look for work, Lord Tebbit replied: "Yes people do have to get up and go.

"People do it in Poland, people do it in Hungary, people do it in Lithuania. Why are they more willing to do it than we are?"

In 1981, when more than 3m people were unemployed, Lord Tebbit, then Margaret Thatcher's secretary of state for employment, famously caused controversy when he told the jobless to get on their bikes to find work.

The students' encounter with him is shown on BBC Wales' Week In Week Out programme on Tuesday.

Merthyr currently has the second highest percentage of people seeking jobs in Wales, and regularly features in surveys of areas with the highest rates of people claiming incapacity benefit.

The once thriving industrial town has also been hit by job cuts in manufacturing, including the loss of production at the Hoover factory in 2008.

Student Gemma Griffiths, 23, and her sister Donna, 21, who grew up in a family on benefits in Merthyr, made the 15-minute film shown to Lord Tebbit.

Image source, BBC news grab
Image caption,
The Griffiths sisters say they were raised in a family hit by poverty

Last week the UK coalition government unveiled plans to reform the welfare system and promised to make work worthwhile.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised "to make work pay for some of the poorest people in our society".

A "universal credit", sanctions for those turning down jobs, and a cap on benefits paid to a single family were among the changes outlined.

But Gemma Griffiths said: "I made this film because I grew up in a family in poverty and I think the benefit reform is a bad idea because it will push Merthyr into deeper poverty than it already is."

The sisters spoke to a number of benefit claimants who face losing out because of changes to the rules, and they both believe cutting benefits in the current economic climate will make poor people in Merthyr poorer.

But Lord Tebbit told them: "It is an interesting film which shows up some very longstanding deep-rooted problems.

"When I was a kid at school we'd all had fathers who had been unemployed but I don't think any of us had a father who had never been employed.

"Why have we got today fathers who have never worked? In that sense we are worse off than we were before the war, before the welfare state.

"I think some people may get less well off, may get poorer.

"But the question is whether we can help the majority of people to get out of that hole."

Last year, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith sparked debate when he said people in Merthyr had become "static" and suggested they "get on a bus" to find work in Cardiff.

Week In Week Out, Message from Merthyr, is on BBC One Wales at 2235 GMT on Tuesday, 22 February.

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