Lies, Damned Lies pt.III: Lie Hard With A VengeancePosted: November 17, 2012
[First published in The Morning Star, 17/11/2012]
Another week in Westminster, another carefully phrased exultation over dodgy departmental statistics. This time it was junior minister Mark Hoban’s turn to tout the latest labour force survey figures, insisting that the rise in employment showed “there are jobs out there.”
This might be a platitude, but it’s at least a less outrageous distortion than last month’s “more people in work than ever before,” which could as easily apply to brunettes or ham sandwiches.
There are some more jobs out there than this time last year. But how many are we really talking? And more importantly, are people really making a living out of them?
As the Morning Star revealed last month, October’s official figures papered over some major cracks in the economy – rising numbers on workfare were artificially inflating the employment rate, while actual new jobs were primarily low-paid part-time work of just 15-odd hours a week. And surprise, surprise, those same crises are still lurking just beneath the headline figures.
There’s ostensibly 513,000 more people counted as in employment between July and September than this time last year. Incidentally 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.
Anyway. Of that 513,000 people, 112,000 are newly self-employed – hardly a guarantee of stable income in this economy, especially when many if not most will be former Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants whose case workers have convinced them to take out business loans under the Con-Dems’ New Enterprise Allowance scheme.
Another 77,000 are on the same government-supported training schemes we identified last time, like workfare – so not in paid employment in any meaningful sense at all. And it still bears repeating that the team monitoring Iain Duncan Smith’s vaunted Work Programme doesn’t actually report how many referrals end in paid work. At all.
Yet as far as the press office of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is concerned, they don’t really need to – DWP policy is that people who are to all intents and purposes unemployed remain on the Job Seekers allowance while they’re on workfare. Yet because they’re on a government “training” programme, they’re also lumped into the employment rate – at which point the Office for National Statistics (ONS) decides that by definition they then can’t possibly be included in the unemployment rate.
If that paragraph didn’t make any sense to you, that’s because the data doesn’t. This move by the DWP allows for a spectacular bit of double-dipping where the JSA claimant count can remain, in the statisticians’ own words, “virtually unchanged,” while the unemployment rate has ostensibly dropped 0.4 per cent in the space of a year – which Citizens Advice and others have noted, also deducts the recent explosion of jobseekers suffering benefit sanctions – a 459 per cent rise over the last two years in Scotland alone.
Then finally there’s another 5,000 who are unpaid workers in family businesses. Combined that’s more than a third of the figure being touted. So what about those who are in fact paid employees?
Of the 316,000 new jobs since last year, two-thirds – 66.7 per cent – 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 (unfortunately they don’t collate the mean).
It’s pointless to pontificate about a return to “jobs” as an abstract concept without thinking about what those jobs entail. Since 2007 the number of people in full-time employment has fallen by 399,000, while the number in part-time employment is up 713,000. And dwarfing both is the rise in unemployment of 865,000. Essentially what we’re seeing is a continuation of the casualisation of Britain’s workforce driven by New Labour, with more and more people on fewer hours for less take-home pay, and the ever-swelling reserve army of labour.
As I left my home in east London on Wednesday morning – already reading the glowing reports on my phone – 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 entrepreneurs.”
On second thought, it might just as easily call them welfare cheats and freeze their benefits on account of undeclared earnings.
Men wandering the streets, collecting scrap metal in a broken pram. Welcome to Cameron and Clegg’s Alarm Clock Britain.