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Unemployment Statistics

Volume 901: debated on Sunday 2 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the accuracy of monthly unemployment figures; and if he will make a statement.

The figures relate to people who register as unemployed. This is a well-defined basis used by successive administrations over many years, and I am satisfied that it should continue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Centre for Policy Studies is saying that the monthly unemployment figures are misleading?

I am aware of the claims made by the Centre for Policy Studies. However, it is the claims of the Centre that are misleading. It is a fact that the Centre misleads when it subtracts large numbers from the published unemployment total and then describes the much-reduced figure as the actual figure of unemployment. I certainly do not wish to discourage intelligent analysis of the unemployment statistics—indeed, my Department is publishing full information to facilitate and encourage informed appraisal of the unemployment position. The basis of our statistics is clearly set out and it is quite untenable to claim that they are misleading. I therefore believe that the Centre for Policy Studies is doing a grave disservice to the proper discussion of this subject by trying to minimise the serious and appalling figures facing us.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that one of the most significant figures in the unemployment statistics is that dealing with the number of vacancies? Is he aware that many employers do not notify local employment offices of their vacancies, and therefore the figure is suspect? What action is the right hon. Gentleman taking to ensure that we get a much more accurate figure for the number of vacancies available?

We are always hopeful that employers will notify us as much as possible, and anything that can be done to encourage them to do so will be of assistance. It would be wrong on that account to think that the figures we publish are misleading. The basis on which they are formulated is known. It is wrong for anyone to suggest that they give a misleading picture to the country.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the figures can be misleading, in that they include thousands of people who have had a magnificent golden handshake at 61 or 62 and have no intention of ever returning to work, but who go to the employment exchange week by week to preserve their pension rights? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that this is a contribution to misleading figures that ought to be examined?

I do not think that such people alter the total figure to any significant degree. The Centre for Policy Studies is trying to pretend that the actual unemployment figure can be almost cut in half by the methods it employs. That is a quite false representation of the situation. The figures are serious, and there should be no attempt to minimise their importance.

Whatever the arguments over the detailed interpretation of figures may be, is it not a fact that if we look at the figures we see that unemployment has doubled during the lifetime of the present Government and that it will continue at record levels through next year? Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication when it will be coming down?

The figures have certainly risen seriously over the past year and a half or more, just as they have in all other Western countries. In some of these other countries they have risen a good deal further than they have in this country. The cause of the problem cannot be sought solely in events that have taken place in this country. Something can be done to deal with this—only something; I do not want to exaggerate it—by the kind of measures that the Government announced in September and by further measures of that character. I fully agree with those of my hon. Friends who insist that many more far-reaching measures than that will be required to deal with the full unemployment problem. It is to those measures as well as to the intermediate measures that we must apply our minds.