The curious Coalition silence on the latest employment figures – what don’t they want us to notice?

Last month, I wrote about how the government was trumpeting an increase in employment, with David Cameron even challenging Ed Miliband to publicly congratulate the coalition on the improvement, when in fact a closer look at the employment statistics showed that the real news was anything but good.

This month has been curiously different. The new ONS labour market statistics were published last week, again with a headline improvement in the equivalent (seasonally-adjusted) report that Cameron made such a fuss over last month, but I haven’t heard a peep from any government spokesmen about it. There are notes on a few government web pages, but no big pronouncements in Parliament or the media as there would usually be.

Now, it may just be that Cameron was busy enjoying a G20 junket in Mexico while Clegg was away in Brazil for the eco-summit, but I don’t think so. There are plenty of other ministers and cronies who weren’t away. Maybe I just have a suspicious mind, but for me this kind of curious omission sets off some kind of alarm. Why isn’t the coalition making a song and dance about the nominal improvement to try to score a cheap PR win?

Only one way to find out, so I’ve spent much of the last couple of days going through the latest ONS reports, and they’re very revealing. They’re fairly dense and take some getting through, so being a publicly-minded citizen, I thought I’d share a few highlights – or lowlights, as they turn out to be – and see if that sheds some light on the anomaly. As per my usual practice, I’ll be using the ‘not seasonally adjusted’ figures from the reports – statisticians do some ‘black magic’ on the figures to try to reflect seasonal variations, but the unadjusted figures show what’s really happening to real people, and that’s what I’m interested in. If you want a seasonal comparison, still use the unadjusted figures but compare them to the same quarter last year.

First, the ‘good’ news. In the quarter to May 2012, the total number of people in ’employment’ rose by 44,000. Not as many as in last month’s figures (remember, these are rolling quarters so last month’s figures were comparing 2 out of the same 3 months as this month’s stats), but still up.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty much all downhill from there. Let’s look at some lowlights:

1) Elderly forced labour

As just mentioned, the number in employment for everyone aged 16 and over rose by 44,000. However, if you look at the number of people of working age (currently 16-64 for men, 16-59 for women), the number of people in work actually fell by 17,000. So, rather than getting unemployed working-age people back to work, the government’s policies are forcing retired people to start working again to make ends meet. This is probably also a major factor in the increase the stats show in the number of people working part-time who don’t want a full-time job.

2) Employed vs self-employed

Similarly to last month, the new reports show that the number of employed people is actually down by 38,000 (and by 115,000 compared to a year ago). The increase in the overall number of people in ‘work’ (all aged 16 and over – no data available for working-age only) is due to an increase of 69,000 in the number of self-employed people. ‘Great,’ you might say, ‘we’re a nation of entrepreneurs!’ But out of all those people who started self-employment in the last 3 months and therefore came off the total unemployment number, there’s no way of knowing yet how many of them will actually succeed in making a living. Many startup businesses fail, and many so-called ‘self-employed’ positions are offered by employers as a way of minimising cost and not even having to pay minimum wage, so only a small percentage of this figure will actually represent people actually making a living.

3) Full-time or part-time?

The figures show that in the last quarter, for working-age people, the number of full-time jobs fell by 63,000, while part-time increased by 55,000. So we lost a lot of full-time jobs and didn’t even replace them with the same number of part-time. (I know, the individual figures don’t quite tally with the totals, but I can only give you what the reports show).

What’s more, of those 55,000 extra part-time jobs, only 17,000 are employed – that is, in real jobs and getting paid for it. The rest have come off unemployment benefit to try to earn a part-time wage for themselves, but with no guarantee of doing so. So the situation is actually significantly worse than the figures show at first glance.

4) Economically active/inactive

The number of working-age unemployed people fell, even while the number in employment also fell. This is reflected in a big increase in people classified as economically inactive. This means that in spite of fewer people having work, the government is reducing the unemployed headcount by forcing people off benefits who are unable to find work, or physically unable to work – the plight of disabled people being told they’re fit for work when they couldn’t possibly do so is well known. By far the main proportion of the people forced into economic inactivity, according to the statistics, are female – so once again we’re seeing that this government is certainly no friend of women, just as they’ve shown previously by implementing benefit changes that affect women far more than men.

5) Age discrimination

The figures show a definite adverse trend at both ends of the age spectrum. The number in work is down for 16-17 year olds (by 21,000) and 18-24 year olds (by 44,000). At the other end of the scale, there is an increase of 33,000 in working numbers in each of the age-groups 50-64 and 65+, but without any corresponding decrease in the numbers unemployed. This means that large numbers of people in these age groups who previously didn’t have to work are being forced to find work by government policies that have impoverished them.

So, what does all this tell us? Well, I’m still surprised that the government didn’t try to get some mileage from the small increase in employment across the whole over-16 population. They regularly show themselves to be pretty shameless. But I suspect that even to them it was clear that anything beyond a skim-read was going to show the damage they are doing to this country and its people.

Maybe this uncharacteristic silence shows that the government was hoping that if they didn’t draw attention to the issue, we wouldn’t notice. Let’s make sure we disappoint them in that regard. The facts speak for themselves.

‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’
George Orwell

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