The Office of National Statistics (ONS) published its latest employment figures this week. As usual, the government latched onto any remotely positive figure that it could spin as proof of its ‘economic competence’ and the rightness of its policies. As usual under this government, the good news wasn’t really very good, and the reality was far darker and far bleaker – enough so politically, but far, far more for the ordinary people affected.
The government claimed that unemployment fell by 5,000 on the previous month, and most of the media dutifully echoed the ‘good news’. But the figures don’t stand up.
For most of last year, I published an analysis of the latest employment figures every month. The sheer volume of other things to write about, and the need to preserve some tiny semblance of an ordinary life, meant that I let that lapse a few months ago. But the difference between the claims and the reality is so stark this month, that I’m taking up the pen (or keyboard) again on the subject, to try to get the truth out there.
Here’s what I found from my examination of the various ONS data tables. As usual, I’ll be looking at the figures which are not ‘seasonally adjusted’ – statistics can appear to say all kinds of things, but the raw numbers are the nearest we have to what is actually happening ‘on the ground’, in the real lives of real people:
Employment: a huge fall
While the government claimed a drop of 5,000 in the unemployment figures, what really fell was employment.
In this month’s data, some 84,000 fewer people had jobs compared to the previous month – a massive fall in a single month. The number of people in employment was the lowest it has been since July last year.
That there was no corresponding increase in the official unemployment figures says much, much more about the government’s determination to prevent people from claiming their due benefits than it does about the true unemployment figure. The truth of this is reflected in our next category: economic inactivity.
To be ‘economically inactive’ means that you have no impact on the economy of the country at all. You do not earn anything. You do not receive any benefits. You do not have any money of your own to spend. Economically speaking, you might as well not exist. You’re not officially unemployed, since you don’t receive any benefits.
If you’re very, very lucky, you’re economically inactive by choice – you have someone providing for you whose income is enough that you don’t have to work. But for very many people, this is not a choice – it’s a sentence.
The number of people economically inactive in the most recent employment statistics rose by an incredible 182,000 – in a single month – and was the highest on record in the ONS data tables.
And here’s the kicker: the number of people economically inactive by choice is the lowest it has been in 10 years.
This means there has been a huge surge in the number of people who want to work but don’t have work and cannot get benefits. The disallowed. The disenfranchised. And there are more such people than at any time since the ONS recorded the data.
Not a pensioner? Then it’s worse still
The fall in unemployment mentioned above is for ‘all over 16’ – no upper limit on age. But the fall in employment among people below retirement age is far higher than 84,000: 230,000.
This figure means at least two things: first, a huge increase in the number of pensioners who are having to work to make ends meet; second, that the influx of pensioners coming out of retirement is preventing working age people from working.
And even if they weren’t, there would still be 84,000 fewer people in employment than in last month’s figures.
Even the South-East?
One of the common factors in previous employment figures has been a buoyant south-east. Even when unemployment was climbing in almost every other area, the south-east of the country resisted the phenomenon.
But in this month’s figures, even in the south-east the number in employment fell by 34,000. Unemployment only rose by 3,000 but don’t be fooled. That just means another 31,000 people who don’t have jobs, but can’t get benefits under this government’s draconian regime – in the most expensive area of the country.
Employment also fell in almost every other area of England – but rose in Scotland and Wales. In the two areas less subject to the direct control of this ‘government’, more people got into work.
The disabled hammered yet again
This government has consistently demonised the disabled, against all the evidence, to justify ruthless policies designed to impoverish and humiliate hundreds of thousands of people. Yet, although deprived of benefits and demonised as scroungers, disabled people still bear the brunt of the government’s economic malignancy.
Employment among disabled people fell by 65,000 – all while the government postures and claims that it’s only throwing them into penury to prevent them being ‘trapped’ in unemployment.
For employment to fall sharply while the unemployment figure notionally falls fractionally can only mean one thing: people cut adrift to cope or fail, or to depend on the kindness of others, because they’re prevented from claiming help from the state.
The number of unemployment benefit claimants is the lowest it has been in 18 months. But this is not, as the government would claim, because it’s getting people off benefits and into work. It’s just getting them off benefits – or the number of people in employment is going down.
This ‘sharp accounting practice’ by the government translates into a sociopathic disregard for the welfare of vulnerable people on the part of those in power. There is no other way to put it that fits the facts.
Employed, self-employed. Same difference
The number of people employed by companies, full-time or part-time, is the lowest it has been in 6 months. Normally, the government masks such bad news by trumpeting the number of people in self-employment as if it reflects some great return to entrepreneurship – even though the reality is that many people in self-employment have no likelihood of successfully earning a living.
But the latest figures show that self-employment has fallen too – just as it has fallen throughout the previous 6 months. This means, tragically, that many people who have been trying to work for themselves have had to admit defeat.
But they haven’t gone into ‘normal’ jobs instead – the number of employed people has fallen too. And they’re not on benefits – the number of officially unemployed people is fractionally down. They’re just in limbo – economically inactive.
The situation is not just bad, but getting worse. The number of redundancies in the latest figures is up by a massive 7% on the previous month. Far from the supposed economic confidence that the government is trying to talk into existence, companies are now shedding the staff that they retained through a long, tough period in the hope of finding work for them. Chickens are coming home to roost – and it means misery for many more thousands of people.
Sorry, no vacancies
Even though we have well over 230,000 fewer people in employment, the number of vacancies only rose by a paltry 7,000. For all the government’s claims that the figures vindicate their insane austerity policies and decimation of public employment, the reality is that jobs are disappearing from our economy.
In spite of the fudging and stretching of figures so that the coalition could claim to have avoided the ‘dreaded triple-dip’ recession, the reality is that our economy is contracting – because a growing economy creates jobs, needs jobs.
There is still only one vacancy in this country for every 5 unemployed people – and that’s only taking the officially unemployed. Add to it the hundreds of thousands of people who are excluded from work, excluded from benefits and excluded from our economy, and the real situation is far worse.
If this government’s lips are moving, they’re lying. For their own good and definitely not for that of the vast majority of us. Don’t believe the spin, and spread the word so others see through the deception too.