Jobless fall cheers Tories

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The Independent Online
A big drop in the number of people claiming unemployment benefit last month brought the prospect of the jobless total fal-ling below 2 million in good time for the election.

The boost this prospect gives its re-election hopes delighted the Government yesterday. During the six months before the 1987 election, when the economy was at a similar stage of its cycle, the Conservatives improved their lead in the opinion polls by 12 percentage points, according to Mori.

John Major yesterday predicted that unemployment would fall further. "You cannot guarantee falls of that sort every month. But that the trend is going down and is continuing to go down over the months ahead, I don't think there is any doubt," he said.

The Labour Party said the figures lacked credibility when one in every five households of working age had no one in a job. The continual pressures on JobCentres to reduce the number of unemployment benefit claimants also means that the headline figure understates true joblessness by around 150,000 compared with the definition official statisticians would prefer.

However, Labour will struggle to make much electoral mileage out of the unemployment figures at a time when the jobs market is so buoyant.

The introduction of the Job Seekers' Allowance delayed the processing of new claims and exaggerated by up to 15,000 the fall of 40,800 in the number of claimants in October, to 2,030,000. But even adjusting for that distortion, the figures painted a convincing picture of an improving jobs outlook.

The drop in unemployment last month was widespread. The jobless rate fell in all regions, with the biggest declines the South-east, London, the North-west, Northern Ireland and the West Midlands. The Scottish unemployment rate fell to its lowest for 16 years and in Northern Ireland to the lowest for 15 years. It fell for both men and women and for all age groups. Long- term unemployment also declined.

Ministers said Britain had one of Europe's lowest jobless rates and was virtually alone in having falling unemployment.

Other figures showed that employment in manufacturing industry jumped by 13,000 in September to return to its highest level for four years.

The latest statistics for employment across the economy show the number in work rose by 210,000 in the year to August. Women's employment increased more than men's, and most of the new jobs in the 12 months were part time.

Interest rate fears,

Business, page 20

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