This paper explores some of the social and economic forces shaping the development
of official labour statistics in Britain a century ago. It examines the competing
fears and ideologies that fuelled the demand for intelligence about the labour market
and the major constraints on its provision, such as Treasury control, industrial
resistance and the lack of co-ordination between the statistical branches of government.
The broader impact of official labour statistics on social politics is discussed
in both a British and an international context, with particular reference to the
problems of industrial unrest, unemployment and low income destitution. The paper
uses a historical perspective to demonstrate the continuing significance of past
investigations to British labour statistics.