Published on 18 Apr 2012

Unemployment down, but snakes not ladders on jobs prospects

I’ve spent much of the past few weeks deep-sea diving in UK jobs data.

Some more of that was released today showing an unexpected welcome fall in unemployment, youth unemployment, and a small rise in the claimant count. Over the next few months C4 News will continue telling the story of jobs in Britain with a series of reports for the Channel 4 Jobs Report (#c4jobs). The first thing to say is that the stories below the surface of the headline number tell incredibly interesting tales of social and economic change in Britain. Let me, in the first instance throw a few insights out there, and please see this as your chance to influence and shape our coverage.

1. Whenever unemployment has reached this level in the past it has always gone on to double digits. (intriguingly this has in the past only occurred three times, all under Conservative governments, who have subsequently been re-elected). Merely maintaining it at the current level of  8.3 per cent in the coming years could be seen as a relative success….

2. But this masks at least a two-tier workforce where those with the right skills and with high skills are starting to see recovery’s green shoots. Low skilled workers face increased competition for the same or a declining number of jobs –  the flipside of globalisation and worries about the recovery. Meaning that…

3. Today’s numbers show that full time employment is decreasing, and being replaced by sectors such as “part time self employed”. There was a massive 89k increase or 6.8 per cent in the last quarter in the number of people working part time because they could not get full time work. Temporary, part time, self employed and flexible or agency work is the direction of travel.

4. Trying to up-skill workers to take better jobs is clearly the Holy Grail answer. But the reality of Britain’s labour market could be, as one agency boss told me, that middle skilled Britons are now as likely to drop aspirations and dip down into the already hyper-competitive low skilled market.

5. For example, of the rise of 437,000 rise in the number of recent UK graduates over the past decade (the Labour government higher education expansion), a majority, 58 per cent (255k) have ended up in “low-skill” jobs

6. In fact is there a “jobs concertina” emerging where a large pool of middle and low skill labour is going for a diminishing pool of the same jobs and trying to compete with …

7. Foreign workers? Latest figures show that 166,000 decline in employment for UK nationals versus 166,000 increase in employment for foreign nationals over the past year.

8. In 2010, the unofficial government story on its Work Programme, was that the Coalition would be judged by the fact that employment growth over 5 years would go to Britons, coaxed back to work by tough love, rather than to eager foreign workers.

9. Is the reality emerging now that a large pot of long term unemployed, former Employment Support Allowance recipients, underemployed graduates, and foreign workers, are all going for the smaller pool of insecure, low-paid jobs? In the absence of growth, this is churning different workers through the same jobs.

10. Is the unpalatable truth that the net impact of the government’s efforts on jobs (Poundland work experience, workfare, etc) is to coerce large swathes of the country to lower their expectations? This obviously runs rather contrary to the “reach for the stars” social mobility rhetoric beloved of all politicians. The ladder of aspiration actually being replaced by the snake of economic reality.

I’ll be exploring this and much more in the coming months on the Channel 4 Jobs Report alongside my colleagues Sarah Smith (check out her first few reports on this) and Jackie Long. All ideas welcome.

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5 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    What do we expect? We have a finance/market driven economic policy which places classic financial rectitude at its heart. Tackling unemployment – especially upskilling the UK workforce – is just fiddling away at the margins. Businesses aren’t going to take the risk of “employing a hoodie” when they can take keen eastern europeans with experience or British graduates who have at least shown some degree of work ethic. Many employers are already complaining about skills shortages which are deterring them from expanding. An alternative economic policy would invest heavily in subsidising apprenticeships and training for UK workers, accepting the short term increase in borrowing (we could offset any effect of our Moody’s rating being lowered by letting Sterling float downwards) for the long-term ibcrease in our productive capacity and the fact that the additional money would increase demand in the economy & actually might well reduce borrowing because of lower benefit costs & higher taxes.

  2. Martin Williams says:

    How do they explain this The North West has seen the highest rise in the number of people who are unemployed in the country. It’s risen by 18,000, bringing the total number of jobless to 325,000.

    So there are more people unemployed in the north west, but more jobs elsewhere.. Where.. Add to that all those who dont claim benefits, or those that are not counted for one reason or another. (for example if you are sanctioned on the work programme, you are not classed as unemployed)

  3. e says:

    Got it in 10 Faisal! Finally you make note of a path that’s been developing for over 30 years. Odd because the ruts that appear in its wake, growing dependence on subsidies like housing benefit, homelessness, disaffected youths without the wherewithal for independent living, growing numbers being incarcerated – we’ve had it all for decades. Going forward, isn’t it really just a question of will the private sector make a better fist of policing it all than the state? As things stand I doubt the possibility of a future to be proud of given the myopic nature of televised ‘public’ debate.

  4. Saltaire Sam says:

    As a proud member of the ‘Toynbee left’, I’m sick of this government massaging the figures with partial truths instead of tackling a tragic situation for so many families (Note how I’m able to write families without adding hard pressed or squeezed)

    It’s not just this pathetic coalition of incompetents. Their neo-con predecessors started it – perhaps almost invented it, certainly turned it into an art form.

    Just as the financial crisis is a sign that the current form of capitalism isn’t working, so is high unemployment, internships and the growing dependence on part time jobs.

    If this paradigm was all it’s claimed to be, you wouldn’t have a few thousand getting obscenely rich while others struggle to even get a full time job, or are forced to work for multi nationals for nothing.

    Until we create a capitalist system that is fairer for all – how many people could be employed with Bob Diamond’s bonus or his tax bill paid for by Barclays? – we are destined to have these problems, and in the long term even worse.

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