Every month, I take a detailed look at the latest ONS employment statistics, to see how reality compares to the spin and emphasis used by David Cameron’s government, picked up by the media and fed to the British people as fact. Almost without exception, a proper examination of the figures shows that there is a massive gulf between what the government chooses to emphasise and the grim reality faced by many groups of people.
This month, though, is a little different. Not only is there a world of bad news hidden behind Tory soundbites as usual, but during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday Cameron went far beyond his usual spin and told a bare-faced lie. And not just once, but four times.
Let’s take a look at the rest of the picture first, and we’ll save Cameron’s mendacity until last – like dessert, if you will:
Unemployment down by 7,000. But not really.
The scrolling ‘newstape’ on the BBC News channel when the stats were released said ‘unemployment down by 7,000‘ compared to the previous quarter. That’s not much, but it’s at least a little good news. Or it would be, if it were true. The government bases its headlines on the ‘seasonally-adjusted’ figures – but these adjusted figures don’t reflect anything that’s actually happening.
For that, you need the unadjusted figures – what’s really happening to real people. And the unadjusted figures say that unemployment is up by 67,000 on the preceding quarter (58,000 up compared to a year ago). That’s a significant difference in what it says about our economy compared to the government’s version – and even more so if you’re one of the 74,000 extra unemployed people the government’s headline figure says don’t exist!
What’s worse, unemployment is up by 112,000 compared to when the coalition came to power (when the previous Labour government’s policies were still having an effect). Already, Cameron’s claim of ‘more than 1 million net new jobs‘ under his government is looking shaky – but more of that shortly.
Especially if you’re a woman!
The government’s economic mismanagement is bad news for every ordinary person. But if you’re female, it’s far worse. Women represent just over 51% of the UK population above the age of 16, who are counted in the unemployment statistics. But of the 112,000 increase in the number of unemployed people since the government came to office, an incredible 79% are women.
Bad news for the disabled – especially if you’re a woman
Unemployment was up compared in all classifications of limiting disability and chronic illness. For the disabled population as a whole, it was up by 11,000 on the quarter and by 54,000 compared to a year ago. As the government and much of the media continue their assault on disabled benefit claimants, even using the Paralympics as a means of turning public opinion against disabled people, the coalition’s policies are forcing more and more people into unemployment.
That this is bad news for disabled people goes without saying. But if you’re a disabled woman, it’s even worse. Women make up just under 49% of disabled people – but constitute 65% of the increase in the unemployment figure since a year ago.
It’s absolutely plain that this government is no friend of women. Not only did David Cameron sack most of the women from his Cabinet during his recent reshuffle, but his government’s policies consistently weigh most heavily on women, whether disabled or non-disabled.
Cameron’s Big Lie – and the little ones hiding behind it
In PMQs on Wednesday, Cameron clearly felt he’d struck gold with a particular aspect of the employment statistics, because he used it no less than 4 times. Or to be more accurate, he misused it. Not only that. He lied.
His ‘gold nugget’ was the fact that there are over a million more people in private-sector jobs than there were when his government took over from Labour. If he’d said only that, phrased it just like that, he would have been guilty of distortion and misdirection, but not of an outright lie.
But, like many liars before him – especially slightly desperate ones – Cameron fell into the temptation of pushing his claim too far and gilding his fake lily. A plain truth wouldn’t have achieved the nice, round number of 1 million. Merely misleading wouldn’t have sounded like the government deserved anywhere near as much credit. Cameron wanted both of those things – so he lied.
Four times during his answers on Wednesday, David Cameron claimed credit for an economy that has led to ‘over a million net new private sector jobs’. Probably the pick of the four was this:
“On a day when we hear that this economy has created 1 million net new private sector jobs, all we have learnt from the Labour party is that it has learnt nothing.”
as Cameron tried to bash Labour over its collective head with his government’s ‘achievement’. Here are the other 3 statements:
“Today’s unemployment figures show an extra 1 million net private sector jobs since the election, which is something that shows our economy is rebalancing.” (by saying ‘since the election’, he claims all the credit for his government)
“when we look at the number of private sector jobs, which is vital when we need to rebalance the economy, we see that there were over 1 million net new private sector jobs over the past two years.”
“This is an economy that has generated 1 million new private sector jobs.”
‘created‘. ‘generated‘. ‘net new‘. Sounds great – makes a great soundbite, doesn’t it?
The problem is that it’s absolutely not true. And it becomes an even bigger problem because the ONS are very careful to draw attention to what makes it a lie. David Cameron drew his soundbite from the ONS figures (spreadsheet emp02sep2012_tcm77-276767 on the ONS site in case you want to see for yourself) that say there were 23,896,000 people in private-sector employment in June 2012 (the most recently-quantified month), versus 22,826,000 in June 2010 – a difference of 1,070,000.
But – and it’s a very BIG ‘but’ – to avoid any confusion, in big, bold letters repeatedly all down alongside the columns of figures, in a big, bold outline so you can’t miss it, the ONS has inserted a the following caveat:
“NOTE: Further Education Corporations and Sixth Form College Corporations in England are classified to the public sector up to March 2012 and to the private sector from June 2012. These educational bodies employed 196,000 people in March 2012 and the reclassification therefore results in a large fall in public sector employment and a corresponding large increase in private sector employment between March and June 2012. Table EMP04 shows a series for public sector employment excluding financial corporations and the educational bodies. ”
This text refers to a single, large transfer of 196,000 further education and 6th form employees from being classified as public employees to being classifed as private-sector. If you look at the whole figures table, you’ll see that the number transferred in total was 209,000. That’s 209,000 private-sector jobs which are not new, not net, not created and not generated – just transferred or re-classified.
If you deduct 209,000 from 1,070,000, you end up with 861,000. 861,000 is a big number, but not as big or as snappy as ‘over a million’.
Cameron just couldn’t resist the nice, round number and the headlines it would spawn – so he lied. He didn’t want to let truth get in the way of a good soundbite – and he lied to Parliament.
And the big lie hides a number of smaller facts of which Cameron would prefer us to remain ignorant. Over the same period, since the coalition took office, the UK has lost 628,000 public-sector jobs. There are no statistics on any full-time/part-time split, but we’re fairly safe in assuming that the vast majority of these were full-time posts, as you save a lot more money, for a lot less admin, firing full-time workers than a part-time ones.
But 861,000 is still a substantial number. Isn’t it?
Not necessarily. To see the real picture, we need to factor in a look at full-time vs part-time, and employed vs self-employed. If we look at full-time employment, we see the since July 2010 the UK has a net loss of 85,000 full-time, employed positions. During the same period, there was a gain of 165,000, but only in part-time employed jobs. As both full-time and part-time average weekly hours have fallen since the coalition took over, it’s safe to say that the part-time jobs have not replaced the lost full-time jobs, representing a further net loss.
The stats also show that, over the last two years, there has been an increase of 116,000 people ‘working full-time’, and 136,000 ‘working part-time’, on a self-employed basis. However, as we’ve already seen in previous analyses of employment statistics, these numbers by no means imply the narrative of ‘we’re a great nation of entrepreneurs’ that the government would like us to believe.
On the contrary, announcing that you’re self-employed simply means that you’re going to try to make a living – but there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed. And many jobs are classified as self-employed simply as a ruse by employers to avoid having to pay holiday and sick leave, or incurring any costs when they don’t need your services any more, in the same way as zero-hours contracts are used to directly employ people without any of the costs or responsibilities of usual employment contracts.
Similarly, many people working as contractors to the public sector are classified as self-employed, even though the work they’re doing is public-sector work. So in reality the numbers of self-employed positions should mostly be deducted from the private-sector employment figure.
And on top of all that, throughout the coalition government to date incomes have consistently failed to keep pace with rising living costs, meaning that we’re all more poorly paid in real terms for the hours that we do work.
Once you deduct the majority of the self-employed number, the impact of the loss of full-time employed positions, the reduction in average hours worked, zero-hours contracts and the loss of real-terms income, it’s extremely unlikely that the government’s ‘achievement’ in the private sector even matches the massive loss in public-sector jobs that the government has caused for ideological rather than budget reasons. Cameron has not only lied, but also fudged, misled, misrepresented and obfuscated. He must have been going for a full set.
It used to be that lying – sorry, deliberately misleading – Parliament was an automatic resignation matter. That used to be the case before this government set new lows of shamelessness, venality and spinelessness in the case of Jeremy Hunt. Perhaps Cameron just wanted to set a precedent to protect himself from his own misdeeds.
It’s clear that Cameron can’t be trusted and is prepared to not only bend the truth, but break it. It’s also clear that he and his government are arrogant misogynists who belong in a museum, preferably behind thick plexiglass and large, locked doors. But I’d settle for pretty much anywhere. Except in government, failing and and impoverishing a people that didn’t elect them.