There are now 29.76 million people in work in the UK (ONS figures for Feb-April 2013). That is apparently the highest level of employment since records began in 1971. Doesn’t it feel great? (I don’t know what these young people are complaining about…)
Jobs, or the lack of jobs, is pretty much the biggest political issue in the US right now, and it is likely to play a significant role in our next general election, not to mention the Scottish independence referendum next year. How the facts are presented, therefore, is of paramount importance.
Here are some very different truths about the UK jobs market currently in circulation:
- There are now more people employed in the UK than ever before.
- There are more job vacancies available than at any time since 2008.
- The unemployment rate of the economically active population is stubbornly unchanging.
- The number of unemployed people and the number of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are both dropping.
- The rate of long-term youth unemployment is at a record high, with more than 50% of 16-24 year olds not employed.
- The rate of over-65 employment is at a record high, with over one million employed for the first time.
- Jobs are increasingly insecure, with more part-time and temporary contracts and fewer permanent positions.
- The workforce is increasingly flexible, allowing greater efficiency in meeting demand and raising the productivity of the economy.
- Worker productivity is declining, making it less attractive for employers to take on staff.
- Average wages are decreasing in real terms, making it more attractive for employers to take on staff.
- Immigrants are taking “our” jobs.
- Eurozone unemployment is at a record high, making it more likely that EU nationals will migrate to the UK in search of jobs.
- The number of EU nationals coming to the UK for work is falling, and the number of EU nationals returning home is rising.
- Globalisation means more and more work is being outsourced to developing nations, driving an inevitable long-term decline in UK jobs.
- Technological advance means more and more work can be automated, driving an inevitable long-term decline in global jobs.
- Lower corporation tax rates will attract more employers to Britain, leading to job creation.
- Declining tax revenues, partly as a consequence of corporate tax avoidance, will force further public sector job cuts.
None of these statements are as mutually contradictory as they may seem. Yet together they represent a handy mix of positive and negative messages, all of them probably more or less true, from which politicians and headline writers can take their pick. Voters and readers, be on your guard.