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Unemployment Statistics

Volume 23: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are registered unemployed in the United Kingdom; and what is his latest estimate of the number of unemployed who are not registered as such.

At 15 April the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom was 3,007,726. The latest information suggests that in 1979–80 about a third of a million people were seeking work but were not registered as unemployed.

Is the Secretary of State not ashamed of the fact that if one takes account of the unregistered unemployed and all those who are on short-time working and special employment schemes—some of which are of questionable value—the true figure for unemployment is over 4 million? Is it not about time that the Tory Party hired Saatchi & Saatchi to design a new poster showing an ever-increasing dole queue with a caption declaring that Thatcherism is not working?

The hon. Gentleman, like most of us, has, I fear, a liking for some subjective interpretations of highly selective statistics. He is aware, but does not care to recall, that in the past, when unemployment was admittedly lower, surveys showed that between 10 and 20 per cent. of the registered unemployed were not actively seeking work or were not concerned about being out of work. As there are about 10 million people of working age who are not at work he could just as well call that, instead of 4 million, the total of unemployed. We should stick to the form of statistics used for many years by successive Governments.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to blame the economic policies of the Government for unemployment? The stance of some trade union leaders, with restrictive practices, unreasonable wage demands and frivolous strikes, has in many cases priced us out of jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree, therefore, that blame for unemployment must be laid at the door of the trade union leaders?

Yes, indeed, and facts speak louder than words in many ways. In a firm such as the Jaguar motor car company wage restraint, increased productivity, better attention to quality, and greater consideration for the customer have meant that the company has increased its sales and is taking on more workers. The way ahead is to solve the problems of the past and to satisfy the customer.

If the right hon. Gentleman believes that it is best to keep to the method of compiling statistics used by previous Governments, why, after October, is his Department compiling unemployment statistics to include only those eligible to receive benefits and not those registered for work? In a letter to me from his Department he agreed that 65,000 women will be removed from the unemployment figures, not because they are not unemployed, but because they do not qualify for benefit. Why is he altering the method of collating statistics when he has just defended it?

The right hon. Lady knows the answer to that question. It is a consequence of, amongst other things, voluntary registration. Where there are any changes from the exact form—I use that expression to mean the general form of statistics that we should maintain—the statistics that are issued will be annotated—for example, in the way that the statistics that are issued now clearly show the estimate that is made of the effect on the total of unemployed by the special employment measures.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that that is a fiddle, because that is exactly what the Department did when he was a Minister.