The Unemployment Debate: Minister 'accepts 5 million jobless'

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The Independent Online
THE Government has accepted that the real level of unemployment is 5 million, according to John Prescott, Labour's employment spokesman.

A parliamentary answer by Michael Forsyth, Minister of State for Employment, conceded that under a wider definition of the jobless figures suggested by Mr Prescott an additional 2.2 million people would be added to the official 2.8 million. Mr Prescott said: 'These figures, from the Government's own surveys, reveal the massive extent of unemployment in Britain under the Tories.'

Labour's employment spokesman argued that a far more accurate picture of unemployment could be seen by adding to the official data all those who would like to work but did not have a job. Under Mr Prescott's definition, all those who had looked for a job within the four weeks prior to being questioned, or were waiting to start a job but were not available for work within two weeks, would also be included.

Mr Forsyth pointed out in his answer that the additional categories were defined as 'economically inactive' under the guidelines issued by the UN International Labour Organisation: 'The majority of people who say they want work but are not actively seeking it are students; looking after a family or home; or long-term sick/disabled.'

The clash is part of the continuing battle between Mr Prescott and Whitehall over the accuracy of the official statistics. The Government's figures only include people who are claiming unemployment benefit, but Mr Presoctt claims that is a gross underestimate of the true position.

Labour has accused the Government of reducing the 'claimant count' by redefining the groups which qualify for benefit as part of 30 changes to the calculations since the Conservatives came to power in 1979.

Mr Prescott has been denounced by senior Department of Employment civil servants for impugning their integrity, but he said yesterday that he was trying to engage in an intelligent debate on the true level of unemployment.

'Time and again we are rubbished when we say that their official figures only tell part of the story, but now we have the conclusive proof from one of the Government's own ministers,' Mr Prescott said. 'Surely, now the Government will have to admit the need to look again at how unemployment is estimated in this country, so that people can see the real scale of the crisis and judge the Tories on their shameful record.'