August 8, 2011 • 3:53 pm

“Tottenham already has the highest unemployment rate in London. People were suffering long before this riot.”

David Lammy MP, in the Guardian, 8 August, 2011

Following Saturday’s violent riots in Tottenham, the area’s MP, David Lammy, was quick to speak to the media about the lessons that needed to be learnt from the remarkable events.

In one article, published in the Guardian, he made reference to Tottenham’s unemployment rate as an example of the area’s plight. He claimed that Tottenham has the highest jobless rate in London.

Full Fact decided to look into unemployment measures across London.

Analysis

Measuring unemployment can be highly confusing as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes two different measures of how many people are out of work. One of these is the ‘Labour Force Survey unemployment rate’ and the other is the ‘Claimant Count’.

The unemployment rate refers to the proportion of ‘economically active’ people who are not in work. Thus it excludes ‘economically inactive’ people such as the retired. Meanwhile the ‘Claimant Count’ is the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance.

The distinction between the figures is shown in the diagram below.

The most up-to-date figures of the unemployment rate on a local level date back to December last year, which already presents difficulties for analysis.

Nevertheless, examining the unemployment rate (the ONS’ preferred measure), the London Parliamentary constituency with the highest rate is East Ham, with 15.7 per cent, followed by Walthamstow with 15.1 per cent. Tottenham has the sixteenth highest rate at 10.9 per cent.

If the areas are widened so as to compare London boroughs, the area with the highest rate is Newham with 13.7 per cent. Haringey, in which Tottenham can be found, places only fourteenth on this list, with 8.9 per cent unemployment. The London average in both cases is 8.8 per cent.

On this measure, therefore, Mr. Lammy’s claim that Tottenham has the ‘highest rate’ doesn’t add up. He could however be referring to the Claimant Count.

Data on the Claimant Count is much more up-to-date however, with figures available from June 2011.

Examining this measure, the London Parliamentary constituency with the highest count rate is Hackney South and Shoreditch with 8.31 per cent, followed by Tottenham with 8.3 per cent. The London average here is 4.2 per cent.

This appears to be the more likely measure of choice for Mr. Lammy. Although Tottenham still lacks the ‘highest rate’, the difference between it and Hackney South and Shoreditch is almost negligible.

Conclusion

The existence of two different measures can create a great deal of confusion, as is apparent from Tottenham placing sixteenth on one measure and second on another in terms of unemployment.

Assessing whether or not Mr. Lammy chose the most valid measure is also open to debate. The ONS make clear that the Claimant Count is not the official measure of unemployment, nor their preferred one since it excludes unemployed people who don’t happen to be claiming.

However, the ONS do state that the Count can be “indicative for areas smaller than local authorities” which lends more credence to Mr. Lammy’s claim given its local context.

 

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