HC Deb 09 May 1995 vol 259 cc552-3
6. Mr. Janner

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will reconsider the Government's method of assessing employment statistics. [21621]

Mr. Oppenheim

The Employment Department has two measures of unemployment: the claimant count and the International Labour Organisation standard labour force survey. We always recommend that people should look at both sets of figures to get a good idea of what is happening in the labour market. The LFS of unemployment stands at 2.4 million.

Mr. Janner

Does the Minister agree that the number of people whom the statistics show to be unemployed depends entirely on the Government's current definition of the word "unemployment"? As the words "claimant count" inevitably exclude no fewer than 10 categories of people who should be included, the Government's definition is very unlikely to be grossly exaggerated.

Mr. Oppenheim

With all due respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he should know that we have no direct control over the standard for the labour force survey. That standard is set by the International Labour Organisation, and we do not deviate from it. If he does not like the claimant count, by all means let him concentrate on the labour force survey, which shows unemployment standing at 2.4 million. The TUC supports that survey and so, apparently, does the Labour party. Why then do Labour Members persist in claiming that unemployment is really 3 million or 4 million, when the international standard labour force survey clearly says that it is 2.4 million?

Mr. Simon Coombs

I recognise that the international labour force survey has some drawbacks, but does my hon. Friend at least accept the fact that according, to that survey, the United Kingdom has the highest level of employment in the European Union? In that context, does he agree that there is a need for extreme caution in the dealings that he and his colleagues have with their European counterparts, so that they do nothing to discourage other countries in the Union from continuing with their disastrous policy of the national minimum wage?

Mr. Oppenheim

My hon. Friend is right. The international standard figures clearly show that Britain has lower unemployment and higher employment than the other European Union countries that have a national minimum wage set at a reasonably significant level. The Opposition should consider that fact carefully before pretending to the less well-off that there is some simple cost-free way of increasing their pay, especially as the Labour party does not even have the guts to tell them what the level of the minimum wage will be, so that they would know what it would cost in lost jobs.

Ms Eagle

Will the Government now take on board the recommendations of the Royal Statistical Society report and make the labour force survey monthly? The Government could carry on collecting the claimant count figures but replace the definition of unemployment—the claimant count, which simply counts the number of people on benefit, rather than the number who are unemployed—with the definition in the labour force survey. Will the Government now do that?

Mr. Oppenheim

We certainly do not disagree with the suggestion of the RSS that the labour force survey should command more attention. If the Opposition prefer to quote the LFS figure rather than the claimant count, they will. However, if they do, I must warn them that they will find that the LFS showed that unemployment in 1979 stood not at 1 million but at 1.5 million and that, as I have said before, it now shows the unemployment figure as 2.4 million. The problem with upgrading the survey from quarterly to monthly is that that would cost £10 million. If the Opposition are prepared to commit a future Labour Government to spending £10 million on upgrading the LFS to a monthly figure, let them give a policy pledge here. If they are not prepared to make such a pledge, they should stop complaining that we are not prepared to do so.

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