UK unemployment is anything up to 12 MILLION, not two and a half!

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Please note: As ever, this is a layman’s view of the figures. If anyone can help add colour and detail to what follows – and correct it if necessary – please do.

Let’s hope we all live long enough to look back and laugh at the euphoric reporting of the Coalition government’s slanted employment figures.

“UK unemployment fell by 57,000 to 2.51 million in the three months to May,” the BBC reported, quoting today’s release from the Office for National Statistics.

What a shame that the figure is meaningless as it bears no relation to the number of people who are out of work and not paid the minimum wage (or above), which would be a better yardstick. That figure is anything up to 11.71 million, using estimated figures from the ONS report.

This includes not only the number officially counted as unemployed, but those counted as ‘economically inactive’ and those on government-sponsored schemes such as Workfare or the Work Programme – who work, but are paid only in government benefit money and therefore, as the taxpayer is picking up the tab, should be counted with the unemployed.

People who are ‘economically inactive’ include people who are not seeking work, such as those looking after the family or home, those who don’t want or need a job, and those who have retired early – which is why this group is not included in ONS unemployment figures – but also includes those seeking work but officially unavailable for it, such as students in their final year, people who cannot work for health-related reasons, and ‘discouraged workers’ who believe there are no jobs available.

The trouble is, the statistics do not show the numbers of people in each of these sub-categories, meaning we cannot – for example – get meaningful figures for those unable to work due to poor health. Also, we have no mortality figures – we don’t know how many people have been removed from the workforce because they have died.

This means that the deeply worrying figure of 103,000 fewer people who are economically inactive due to long-term illness is meaningless. Have they died? Have they found work (this is highly unlikely – see Vox’s article on the failure of Work Programme provider companies in this respect)? Have they all miraculously got better and moved into a different category? We simply don’t know, and these figures are extremely frustrating in this respect alone.

The figures suggest that 29.71 million people are in employment, including more than a million who have multiple jobs. They may or may not be among the 8.038 million part-time workers – the statistical estimate does not go into that detail. This adds up to 71.4 per cent of everyone aged from 16 to retirement age (around 41 million of us); excluding the economically-inactive, this goes up to 92 per cent. The part-timers are 27 per cent of the total between 16-64, and 19 per cent of the economically-active.

That means that the 2.51 million people officially designated unemployed constitute eight per cent of the economically-active workforce (or six per cent of the total).

So we’re a long, long way from full employment – and that’s without even going into whether these people are being paid enough!

Not only that, but we should subtract 160,000 people from the ’employed’ figure. This is the number on government-sponsored work schemes, being paid benefit money by the taxpayer in lieu of the proper wage they deserve. So 29.55 million people have jobs and 2.67 million don’t.

This makes little difference to the percentages, nor can we say that anyone has been lying – they have merely been quoting the figures as required of them.

Let’s fill in some of the gaps in the ‘economically inactive’ category: Of the 9.04 million recorded here (up by 87,000) we have 1.95 million students aged 16-24 not looking for work, and 330,000 older students in the same situation, plus 1.38 million early retirements – an increase of 8,000.

Long-term sickness accounts for 2.04 million – an increase of 26,000 on the previous quarter but (as previously mentioned) down 103,000 on a year earlier.

The retired population totals 10.597 million (up 92,000).

We can blow a few myths out of the water:

David Cameron’s claim that a million private sector jobs have been created is absolute piffle. The ONS acknowledges that 196,000 public sector employees were reclassified into the private sector by an Act of Parliament in 2011, to do with educational bodies. Removing this from the statistics, the number of public sector jobs fell by 112,000 in the last year, while the number of private sector jobs did increase – but by only 544,000 – a country mile away from Cameron’s boast.

Claims that the private sector now employs more than 23 million people are also inaccurate – if not so widely. Take away the number of people on government-sponsored work schemes from the 24.059 million private employees claimed by the ONS and you’re left with 23.9 million. Public sector employment stands at 5.697 million.

Those are the facts – as far as we can take them. Without further information about people who don’t want or need a job, and about those who are looking after the home or family, it is impossible to say how many of the ‘economically inactive’ might be looking for work.

And without further details about those in long-term sickness, we can only fear for the condition of the 103,000 who have fallen off the ledger.

18 thoughts on “UK unemployment is anything up to 12 MILLION, not two and a half!

  1. Pingback: Vox Political: UK unemployment is anything up to 12 MILLION, not two and a half! | Beastrabban's Weblog

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  3. Penny Ledger

    Many “private sector” jobs are wholly public funded through commissioning, and other contracts, or care staff paid from personal budgets, often on lower salaries but higher total cost.

  4. Diane

    Any mention of folk on “As and when” contracts and choosing now not to bother the inhumanity of the job centre staff each fortnight when you go to sign on. On Contribution based JSA, after qualifying period I didn’t get a penny, but it cost me to travel to sign a piece of paper…so I decided not to bother.

      1. ralph

        You’re only unemployed if signing on – it’s that simple… and there are many reasons why some people don’t – despite not being in full time permanent work

    1. Jack

      All new claimers and anyone who has been unemployed for 12 moths are put on the work program and they AREN`T counted as unemployed. I know this for a fact because my son is on the work program and has been told this by the Jobcenter

  5. lauren

    I worked for the work program in plymouth-there are 4 providers in plymouth, prospects, working links, tomorrows people and a4e, as well as others like remploy doing similar work. Prospects alone had over 1200 unemployed just on their books for plymouth.

  6. Lawrence Roper

    Every government has twisted the unemployment figures to suit themselves for decades, they don’t count this or that, seasonal adjustments, work schemes you name it. In opposition they complain about the spin put on unemployment, but once in power they pick up those very same stats and start their own brand of spin on them.

    It’s probably so corrupted by now that it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

  7. johnny void

    Only people on workfare are counted as employed, not people who are just on the Work Programme. The definition of unemployment is people who responded to the Labour Force Survey saying they were unemployed and had actively looked for work in the last four weeks – this is the internationally agreed definition of unemployment.

    ONS say the reason people on workfare are counted as employed is that these figures also relate to things like total numbers of hours worked in the economy – they are known as the unemployment figures because that’s how they are presented by the media, but its actually a far more ranging economic survey that has to meet international guidelines. That’s their excuse anyway.

  8. Statman John

    Your blog post compares previous quarter figures, but the ONS warn against this for the simple reason that the figures are sample-based, and calculated on a rolling 12 month basis. That means that around 75% of the people in the sample used for the latest quarter are included in the previous quarter’s data too. You should only compare against the previous year figures at least 2 months apart. I don’t know what difference this might make to your conclusions, but based on the survey methodology they’d be more accurate.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Are you sure? It’s a while ago now, but I seem to recall the guidance being that you should not compare the previous month’s figures with the current month, but the previous quarter was fine. That’s why I did it the way I did.

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