October employment statistics: Cameron lies and misdirects

It’s time again to take a proper look at the latest ONS employment statistics. David Cameron, with his usual arrogant sneer, tried to taunt Ed Miliband this week during Prime Minister’s Questions, by asking why Miliband wasn’t congratulating the government on the fact that “employment is up by 212,000 this quarter; unemployment is down by 50,000 this quarter; the claimant count has actually fallen by 4,000; and what that means is that since the election some 170,000 fewer people are on out-of-work benefits“.

That kind of sneering triumphalism deserves to be challenged and examined at the best of times – and even more so in a period where the vast majority of people are being forced to get by on less by ideologically-driven and unnecessary cuts. So, let’s take a look behind the headlines.

Adjusted vs unadjusted

In my monthly analyses, I always mention that I’m using the unadjusted statistics, but this month that point is deserving of its own section. The ONS statisticians make theoretical seasonal adjustments to the actual figures to fit what they think is happening – but the raw, unadjusted figures tell what is really happening to real people. In general – though not always – the adjusted figures will be kinder to the government, but the raw data represent real life, whichever way they go. Let’s compare Cameron’s self-congratulation with the real-life figures:

– “employment is up by 212,000 this quarter”. Employment is up, but actually by 397,000, not 212,000. This matches almost exactly the reduction (400,000) in the number of ‘economically inactive’ people – this is very significant, as we’ll see shortly.

– “unemployment is down by 50,000 this quarter”. Well, no it isn’t. Employment is actually UP by 95,000, from 2.506 million to 2.601 million.

– “the claimant count has actually fallen by 4,000”. The claimant count is actually down by almost 20,000 since the last quarter.

– “what that means is that since the election some 170,000 fewer people are on out-of-work benefits”. I can’t find any statistic in the tables to support this assertion. Whether you use the adjusted or unadjusted statistics, the claimant count is much higher than it was at the time of the election: 1,517,300 people vs 1,494,500 people according to the adjusted figures, or 1,569,900 vs 1,502,200 according to the unadjusted statistics.

So either Cameron got it completely wrong – or else he lied (again) to Parliament. Cameron’s claim differs by 398,000 from the actual (adjusted) number. Too big to realistically be a mistake – but just right for a ‘Big Lie’. As we’ve seen with the ‘1 million net new jobs’ claim, Cameron just can’t resist the opportunity to stretch his claims well beyond the point where they can be called true, for the sake of political point-scoring.

Take all of Cameron’s statements together with the actual statistics, and you get a very different picture from the one he’s trying to paint:

– Claimant count down for the quarter but unemployment actually up means more than 100,000 people losing their jobs but being denied access to needed benefits.

– Employment up, and economic inactivity down by the same amount, while unemployment rose. Economic inactivity figures primarily represent those who, by choice, are not earning wages nor claiming benefits – for example, full-time parents or those with a spouse earning enough to mean they don’t have to work. A reduction in economic inactivity, then, is by no means necessarily a good thing.

The fact that unemployment rose means that the government is not helping those who want to work to find jobs. Instead its economic policies are reducing our incomes so that those who previously didn’t want or need to work are now having to find jobs to make ends meet – while those who are unemployed and seeking work are unable to find it. This is borne out by the next set of statistics.

No dent in unemployment, especially long-term

Numbers in all categories of long-term unemployment (12-24 months and 24+ months) are up substantially. And, contrary to the Tories’ ‘scrounger’ demonisation (the shift worker looking up at the closed curtains of his unemployed neighbour tucked cosily in bed, as Osborne so ludicrously put it), this is not because of people simply preferring a cushy life on benefits. As of the latest quarterly figures, there are 2,528,000 people out of work, and only 475,000 vacancies for them to fight for. No matter what, there are more than 2 million people in this country for whom there is no job – and more than 5 people fighting for every single job there is – even assuming that every vacancy has people with the right skills and circumstances to be able to do it.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman…

As (I think!) Tammy Wynette put it so eloquently. And how right she was. In various ways, women continue to be penalised disproportionately under the coalition government – not just in terms of lost benefits and increased costs, but in employment:

Unemployment: women make up 59% of the increase in unemployment.

Single parent claimants: single parent claimants (who are predominantly female) of job-seekers’ allowance is up since the last quarter – and almost doubled (from 70,130 to 134,885) since this government took office.

Lost hours: British people worked fewer hours in the last year, and fewer compared to a quarter ago. While male workers, whether full- or part-time, lost only around 30 minutes from their working (and therefore paid) week, female workers lost an hour or more.

‘Twas tough in such a time to be alive, but to be young was very hell

It’s  a very hard time to be young at the moment. Housing costs are making the dream of independence and one’s own home unattainable for huge numbers of young people. University debts have escalated massively under this government (and no amount of musical apology from Nick Clegg changes the fact). The government is targeting young people for the removal of entitlement to housing benefit.

And unemployment? Well, for the 16-17 and 18-24 age groups, unemployment is up sharply. For 16-17 year-olds, the rate has increased massively from 33% to 40%. In pure numbers terms, another 62,000 people in that age group are out of work, and another 56,000 18-24 year-olds.

The working poor

Average wages increased slightly on the quarter, and since last year. However, they failed by a distance to keep pace with inflation – meaning that almost all of us are worse off under the coalition, no matter which period you look at. This means more working people pushed below the poverty line and need to claim housing benefit and income support – in spite of the government’s propaganda that implies that benefit-claimants are work-shy scroungers. This is probably exacerbated by the following segment.

The swing to part-time and low security continues

The number of people working part-time jumped by 59,000 compared to the previous quarter, while self-employment climbed by 55,000. While the government will try to spin the latter figure as showing that they are promoting enterprise, the reality is that most of these ‘self-employed’ jobs are either imposed by companies to avoid having to pay for sick leave, holidays and national insurance or represent people who are trying to make a living because they can’t find an employed position, but are by no means guaranteed to succeed.

Full-time employed positions have increased by only 30,000 since a year ago, while part-time positions have increased by 214,000 – a major factor in the fact that we’re working fewer hours as a nation, and being paid less too.

Productivity down

The government likes to claim that it’s pro-business and pro-enterprise, and – according to Cameron’s speech at his party’s conference earlier this month – that it’s making us leaner, meaner and more competitive. However, the statistics couldn’t contradict that claim more strongly.

Productivity per British worker is down – and is the lowest it has been since the government took office. That’s what happens when people feel under-valued, exploited, oppressed and abused – their hearts are no longer in their jobs and their output declines. Cameron and his government are crushing the spirits of British workers – or at least angering them so intensely that a de facto go-slow is taking place.

I’m sure there would be more bad news – because there always is – for disabled people, but the statistics on unemployment among the disabled are only updated every 3 months (which is a scandal in itself, really), so there’s nothing new to report yet compared to last month.

But the stats that have been published show, once again, that while there is some good news (in spite, rather than because of, the government), Cameron is presenting an extremely selective picture of the employment situation in Britain and shamelessly using it to pat himself, and his government, on the back – when in fact, the reality is that, for most of us, things are hard and getting harder. Most of us are in it together, while the Tories and their rich chums get richer and smugger – and applaud the orchestra fiddling as the Titanic sinks.

I wish I could say it’s not the norm.


  1. Re the out of work benefit stats, I find http://www.nomisweb.co.uk/ a good tool. If you click on ‘advanced search’, then go to ‘DWP benefits’, there’s a wealth of info there. The out of work benefit figures only go up to Feb 2012 at the moment, but between May 2010 and Feb 2012, the number of out of work benefit claimants rose by about 63,000. So it is possible that since then, there has been a fall of c.200,000

    1. Not according to the ONS’ own stats, which run up to August 2012 (and provisionally up to Sep)! Thanks for the pointer, though – I’ll take a look.

      1. Don’t forget out of work benefits include IB/ESA and income support. There are almost 5 million out of work benefit claimants, so a much broader measure than unemployment.

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