Lies, Damned Lies pt II: The Wilful Ignorance Of Alarm Clock Britain


I guess this is a follow-up to my more detailed breakdown last month of the Coalition’s deceptive portrayal of employment figures. Basically, are the same trends (rising numbers on workfare counted as employment, unpaid workers in family business and the bulk of new jobs being low-paid, bare-bones part time work) still underpinning today’s announcement?

Well, there’s ostensibly 513,000 more people counted as in employment between July and September than this time last year (note this period covers both the Olympic and Paralympic Games — a source of plenty of short-term casual contracts, but few long-term career prospects for anyone who didn’t win a medal.)

Of that 513,000, 112,000 are self-employed – hardly a guarantee of stable income in this economy, especially when as I’ve said before, a significant proportion are actually former JSA claimants whose case workers have convinced them to take out business loans. Another 77,000 are on government supported training schemes like workfare, so not in paid employment in any meaningful sense at all. And for what it’s worth, another 5000 are unpaid workers in family businesses. Combined that’s more than a third of the figure being touted. So what about those who really are paid employees?

Of the 316,000 new jobs since last year, two-thirds – 66.7 percent – are part-time gigs. Part-time workers are once again working an average (mean) 15.8 hours a week, with an additional 9.5 hours for those with second jobs. So what does that mean for their pay packets? The ONS’ annual survey of hours and earnings won’t be out till later this month, but last year’s figures showed the median* part-time pay was just £154 a week.

Remember, people who are to all intents and purposes unemployed remain on the Job Seekers Allowance even while they’re on workfare. Yet because they’re on a government ‘training’ programme they’re also lumped into the employment rate, where the ONS decides that by definition then they can’t possibly be included in the unemployment rate. This move by the DWP allows for a spectacular bit of double-dipping where the JSA claimant count rate can remain, in the statisticians’ own words, “virtually unchanged”, while the unemployment rate has ostensibly dropped 0.4 percent in the space of a year.

And just to remind everyone how badly we’ve been hurt by the financial crisis, even after the DWP’s policies have laundered the real data:

Between July to September 2007 and July to September 2012:
the number of people in full-time employment fell by 399,000,
the number of people in part-time employment increased by 713,000,
the number of unemployed people increased by 865,000, and
• the number of economically inactive people, aged from 16 to 64, fell by 64,000.

I don’t usually do anecdotes on here, but I can’t think of a better way to illustrate these figures in real terms. As I left my home in east London this morning I passed four men pushing a pair of broken baby carriages loaded with scrap metal. They were on their way to work too; presumably what the DWP would describe as “self-employed businessmen” unless it felt like freezing their benefits on account of undeclared earnings.

Welcome to Cameron and Clegg’s Alarm Clock Britain.

*Mean figures on part-time weekly earnings unfortunately don’t exist.

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