HC Deb 18 March 1986 vol 94 cc150-2
6. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Paymaster General how many people are now unemployed in Lambeth; and how many were unemployed on 14 April 1981.

Mr. Lang

On 6 February 1986 the number of unemployed claimants in the London borough of Lambeth was 26,362. Comparable figures for April 1981 are not available.

Mr. Fraser

Will the Minister take it from me that since Lord Scarman's inquiry was set up the number of people unemployed in Lambeth has at least doubled? To what extent do the Government take any responsibility for that?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman should also take into account the fact that the number of job vacancies in Lambeth has also been rising. Some 2,000 people in Lambeth are benefiting from our employment and training measures. The urban programme is also putting over £13 million into Lambeth.

Mr. Watts

By how much have the rates in Lambeth increased over the same period, and does my hon. Friend see any connection between the two increases?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is on to a good point. Lambeth is one of the highest overspending authorities in the country. The rates rose 107 per cent. in the three years between 1982 and 1985, and a second year of rate capping is good news for business and employment in Lambeth.

7. Mr. Nellist

asked the Paymaster General on how many occasions since 1979 the method of counting unemployment has been altered.

Mr. Lang

Since 1979 there have been five changes which have had a discernible effect on the unemployment count, and three of them have been minor. As we announced on 19 February, a further change is about to be made to correct most of the current over-recording.

Mr. Nellist

Would not the effort expended on removing 1.25 million people from the unemployment register be better expended by the Government on a crash programme of public works, such as building houses, schools and hospitals? Is it not the final indignity for the Paymaster General to say, as he did five minutes ago, that youth unemployment in Britain has fallen, when he knows that there has just been a staistical change—a sideways shift into the youth training scheme—not the creation of real jobs for our youth?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman takes an unduly gloomy view of these matters. His interest in statistics has recently been confined to trying to discover which 50 constituencies have had the biggest rise in unemployment in the past year. I hope that he was not too disappointed that Coventry, South-East was not among them. Unemployment in Coventry, South-East fell by 1.33 per cent.

Mr. Maclean

Will my hon. Friend admit that it is disgraceful that under all Governments those in self-employment and the armed forces have been ignored in compiling unemployment figures? Does he agree that any change which takes account of the excellent job done by our men and women in the armed services and the self-employed is to be welcomed by both sides of the House?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is right. Self-employment has been increasingly important in recent years and now accounts for the highest proportion of the total in employment since 1921. The House might also like to be reminded that the previous Labour Government changed the method of counting. In March 1976 they excluded adult students, which at some times of the year could affect the count by 200,000.

Mr. Flannery

Is not the reason why the Minister could not give comparable figures for 1981 that since then there has been another trick in the method of counting the unemployed by the removal of people over 60 and he will not give any figures once a change has been made, but pretends that they do not exist?

Mr. Lang

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that we should have left figures that we knew to be inaccurate or whether he believes that we should publish accurate figures, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has agreed should be the case. Among the changes that we have instituted, two of them—fortnightly registration and the inclusion of the severely disabled—have increased the count by 20,000 and 23,000 respectively.

Mr. Ashby

When will a proper analysis of the unemployment figures be made so that we might see the true number of people who are unemployed? Many people will ask how a Government can possibly plan for the future without an accurate knowledge of those who are truly seeking work?

Mr. Lang

As my hon. Friend knows, we are working towards producing a more comprehensive and helpful picture of the unemployed. I am sure my hon. Friend recognises that the unemployment count is based on a kind of snapshot taken on one day of the month. On average, 30,000 people find a job on every working day, which shows how impossible it is ever to have total accuracy.

Ms. Richardson

Does the Paymaster General agree that the exclusion of some married women from the register gives a wholly distorted picture of the number of people wanting work? Will he give the House an estimate of the number of women, for example, who are left out of the register who are ready for work but cannot find childcare provision or someone to look after an adult dependant?

Mr. Lang

I do not have those exact figures with me. However, the hon. Lady may know that part-time employment of women has risen by over 500,000 since 1979. There are people included in the count who are not seeking work, but it is also true that there are people not included who are seeking work.

Mr. Wainwright

Will the Minister get his statisticians, at the same time as they refine the count of those claiming benefit, to publish a monthly estimate of the large number of people who have no benefit to claim but are unemployed and are actively seeking work?

Mr. Lang

There are 870,000 people looking for work who are not on the count and claiming benefit, but, according to the same labour force survey, there are 940,000 people who are not looking for work who are in the count.

Mr. Butterfill

Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on the observation by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) that we should spend more money on building hospitals, and compare this Government's programme of hospital building with that of the previous Labour Government?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our capital investment programme bears comparison with that of any other Government.