The truth behind the government's unemployment figures

Posted by Alexander Hay

They're not anywhere as tidy as they might at first seem

For all the statistics, things are still looking bleak...

So, pull out the bunting and let's have a party! The unemployment rate's down! All those spending cuts must be paying off, right? Well, there's going to be a cliché at this point involving details and devils, but first let's have a look at those euphoric figures:

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, latest data shows.

The unemployment rate was 7.7%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), down from 7.9% in the previous quarter...


...The number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in May rose by 19,600 to 1.49 million.

The rise was the biggest since July 2009, and larger than expected...

Others have already commented on this disparity, but it's more telling that the number of people on the dole aren't anywhere near as high as those who are unemployed and not earning anything. Put simply, they don't want to sign on because they know what a profoundly miserable experience it is. 

This marks an ongoing trend since the early 90s, as a graph at the bottom of the article quoted shows. Whereas by 1992, there was more or less parity between the numbers out of work and on Jobseeker's Allowance, the gap between the two has been growing wider ever since.

What's caused this? A shift in culture - whereas as late as the early 90s, some saw signing on as an entitlement, almost a badge of honour, it is increasingly being seen as something that both stigmatises and alienates. Charity degrades.

Not coincidentally, this happened at the same time 'Old' Labour received its final defeat and the traditions of the old trade unions movement were beginning to recede after one rout too many. In the 80s, you could claim to be a working class man martyred by a lack of work, but even that couldn't really last. We're all middle class now...

In other words, the perverse romanticism and drama of signing-on day has retreated, leaving behind the depressing reality and the job centre staff who think you're on par with a nasty yeast infection. People aren't signing on so much as simply opting out altogether and living off other people, which may not seem dignified but at least isn't as bad as going to plead for a handout once every week. 


...TUC head Brendan Barber agreed that the UK labour market was "still very fragile and a long way off the level of jobs we had before the recession".

Nonetheless, he welcomed the apparent fall in youth unemployment. The jobless rate among 16 to 24-year-olds fell from 20.7% to 19.4%, according to the ONS...

Yes, that 1.3% fall is going to make a lot of difference. Now just under a fifth of young people are on the scraphead, whereas before it was just over. One can hardly hold in the delight.


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Alexander Hay

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