According to the headlines, UK unemployment fell 88,000 in the three months to April this year to 2.43 million, the biggest drop since the summer of 2000. This was heralded as proof that the government’s policies are working, and that the private sector is creating more jobs than the 143,000 public sector positions slashed during the same period. But dig a little deeper and the spin unravels.
The Office for National Statistics is open that the fall “was mainly due to an increase of 80,000 in the number of students not active in the labour market.” This seems to have been due to them simply being reclassified, rather than them all suddenly finding jobs. So that leaves just 8,000 jobs ‘created’.
Here too the picture is not so rosy. The number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) increased to 1.49 million. This was partly due to people being forced off other benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), by the use of a computer program to reclassify seriously ill people – including those with suicidal depression and lost limbs – as ‘fit for work’.
Meanwhile, the number of people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job increased to 1.21 million, the highest figure since records began in 1992. Here the reality becomes clear. Seriously ill and disabled people are being forced to sign on to JSA and look for work, while those on JSA are forced onto workfare programmes to work for their dole money – for less than £1.70 an hour – or to take part-time jobs they can’t afford to live on.
These casual, low-paid jobs, including the rise of ‘zero hours’ contracts where someone is technically employed but with no guaranteed hours, have grown to record levels, whilst hundreds of thousands of relatively stable public sector jobs are being axed. Behind the headlines of falling unemployment is rising insecurity for all of us, whether in work or not.