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Jobless figures are a `fiddle on a grand scale'

Britain's headline unemployment figures are "a fiddle on an orchestral scale", according to the chairman of the House of Commons employment committee. In a majority report released yesterday, the committee said a monthly survey-based measure recommended by official statisticians would be an improvement on the present count of the number claiming unemployment benefit each month.

Greville Janner, the Labour chairman of the committee, said: "The figures are fiddled not because they are in themselves inaccurate but because you fiddle figures by selecting which ones to produce." Numerous administrative changes in unemployment benefit meant the public had lost confidence in the claimant count as a measure of unemployment, he said.

The report goes further, arguing that neither the headline claimant count nor the alternative Labour Force Survey measure included all the people who wanted full-time jobs and could not find them. The committee therefore recommended publication of a range of other unemployment figures - which could include discouraged workers or part-timers who would prefer full- time work. The widest of these would take the unemployment total to 4.8 million.

The report, which adds to the pressure on Chancellor Kenneth Clarke to adopt a new unemployment measure, was opposed by four Conservative committee members. But one Tory - Sir Ralph Howell, who recently joined Labour's Frank Field in backing a Right to Work "workfare" bill - voted in favour.

Tim Yeo, one of the Conservative opponents, said: "People who claim that actual unemployment is much higher than 2.3 million are unable to substantiate it." He agreed, however, that it would be helpful to give more prominence to the Labour Force Survey measure, currently available quarterly.

Yesterday's report was less decisive in its call for a monthly LFS unemployment figure than a recent report by a Central Statistical Office working party. The CSO's study was itself a response to a damning inquiry into the adequacy of the claimant count measure by the independent Royal Statistical Society last summer.

The Chancellor is due to decide whether to opt for a monthly LFS figure, at an additional annual cost of pounds 7m to pounds 8m, after consultation on the CSO's recommendations.

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