Thursday, 12 March 2009

Statistical clap trap

Ok, let's get serious for a change. Earlier this week, the BBC's Mark Easton posted a piece on the UK's supposedly ill matched job vacancies vs job seekers. Now come on, everyone knows any statistics can be rolled out to support any argument - even diametrically opposed arguments can be supported by the same stats with a judicious tweek here and there.

I know I am not alone in regarding the UK's official statistics as deeply flawed. Nevertheless, we all need some material to work with and, if that's all we've got, we'll just have to see what we can do with them. The days of accurate counting have long gone unfortunately so we should never make assumptions. We have some critical thinking to do to make sense of what, if anything, the stats we have can tell us.

What I want to know is exactly how many people are resident in the UK at the moment?...No, I do not think the census estimates are anything near to accurate; (I worked on the 2001 Census - I saw then how under reporting was occurring). Advance eight years, with all the changes to the EU in between, no way can the estimates help. It amused me, (ok only slightly), to discover that an offical US department was using a population estimate of 80 million for the UK - well, perhaps they aren't far wrong? Now let's look again at the question of employment seeking. How many asset rich, income poor people, disqualified from claiming benefits are looking for work? You can't tell me because no one is even thinking to capture the numbers. I believe the numbers would shock if ever they could be found. I believe they could make the 'official' figure for unemployment look ridiculously slight.

At a weekend event I attended not so long ago, 60% of the 10,000 attendees claimed to be 'self-employed'. Oh yes, and not happily self employed either. Life's tough and getting tougher.

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