Letter: Who not to count among the jobless

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The Independent Online
From Mr Phillip Oppenheim, MP

Sir: It is a shame that Ken Coates MEP persists in peddling the old myth that the unemployment figures are fiddled (letter, 22 March), especially when only last week the independent Employment Policy Institute report stated that "fiddle theories" have been "discredited".

It is also odd that Labour says it supports the Employment Department's other measure of unemployment, the international ILO-standard Labour Force Survey (LFS), which the TUC has also called "fully reliable", when it produces unemployment totals very similar to the more widely quoted measure of unemployment, the claimant count, which Labour so readily criticises.

I also find it strange that while apparently supporting the LFS, Labour politicians and supporting academics persist in ignoring that very standard by claiming that anything from one to two and half million people are left out of the figures. The basis for this claim is that the LFS includes a group of people who are counted as "economically inactive" because they are not looking for a job, but who say they would like one. When you look more closely at this group, however, it turns out that they are predominantly long-term sick and disabled, people looking after the home, and full-time students - people not included by other industrial nations and who are not supposed to be included according to the ILO standard that Labour says it supports.

The most extraordinary comment made by Mr Coates was that the figures are "polluted" because they include fewer people aged 16-21. This is almost entirely due to the massive increase in the proportion of young people in higher education, up from 12.5 per cent when Mr Coates' party was in power to 31 per cent now.

If Labour believes that the long-term sick and disabled, people looking after the home and full-time students should be counted as unemployed, let it commit itself to doing so should it win the next election. If it does this, it will not only be out of line with its practice when it was last in government, but also out of line with every other major industrial nation.

Yours faithfully


Under Secretary of State

Department of Employment

London, SW1

22 March