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Philip Hammond: This is an actual publicity shot of the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. Draw your own conclusions!

If he’s living a fantasy, what does this presage for the Budget on Wednesday?

Many people were up in arms yesterday (November 19), after Philip Hammond told Andrew Marr the following:

“Where are all these unemployed people? There are no unemployed people.” What a silly thing to say.

He was knocked back almost straight away by Mr Marr, who pointed out that official figures show 1.42 million people on Jobseekers’ Allowance. Mr Hammond dismissed this as a historic low (it isn’t; in the early 1970s it was around one million people).

In any case, the Jobseekers’ Allowance figure is not indicative of the true number of people without work in the United Kingdom – as Mr Hammond should know full well.

In 2013, when the Jobseekers’ Allowance figure was at 2.51 million, This Site pointed out that true unemployment – according to the Office for National Statistics – was at 11.71 million. That was the number of people who were out of work and not paid the minimum wage, which is a better yardstick.

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.

“Where are all these unemployed people”, Mr Hammond? Here they are:

If you look at the most recent statistical release from the ONS, it states that 32.06 million people are in employment, and this is 75 per cent of the workforce aged 16 to 64. This means the workforce totals 42.75 million people.

In other words, the actual number of people who are unemployed in the UK is 10.69 million.

The ONS release states this includes 8.88 million who were economically inactive. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the other 390,000 have been doing.

The 8.88 million figure includes 2.04 million who were not looking for work due to long-term sickness, 73,000 more than for April to June 2017 and 41,000 more than for a year earlier. But we know that the Tory government is doing its best to force these people off-benefit and into work of any kind. Shouldn’t they be included in the official unemployment rate, rather than simply being lumped among the economically-inactive?

And there is another question: Under-employment.

How many people are in zero-hours contracts now? Nearly a million. Those people are not contributing as much as they want, and most of them are certainly not earning as much as they would like. But the current government classes them in exactly the same way as somone in full employment.

How many people are self-employed? 4.81 million – an increase of 25,000 since September 2016. How many of those are self-employed because they can’t afford to retire? How many are self-employed but not earning as much as the minimum wage (sorry – National Living Wage)? Half of them, according to the Resolution Foundation. That’s 2.4 million.

Hey – what about students looking for work? 177,000 (aged 16-24). People on government training programmes? 73,000.

So the combined number of unemployed or under-employed people in the UK comes to around 14.34 million. That’s a whopping 12.92 million more than the Tories are claiming.

That’s why the social media erupted at Mr Hammond’s ill-chosen words. Here’s a selection:

And there’s one more point to make: What would the Conservatives have done if a Labour politician had made such a wild claim about unemployment?

Current Tory press chief is Carrie Symonds – who loves to leap at the Labour Party at every opportunity:

Here she is, attacking John McDonnell for words he spoke during his appearance on the same Andrew Marr show:

Perhaps she has forgotten that, in the June general election, Labour provided exhaustively-detailed explanations of how it would fund all its policies, while the Conservative Manifesto offered nothing.

It seems Mr Hammond is not the only Conservative living a fantasy.

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