The 80 000 increase in unemployment for the period April to June (taking the total to 2.51 million and 7.9%) intensifies the pressure on a bedraggled Coalition government . Much of this increase is the result of rises in youth unemployment – 20.8% of 16 to 24 year olds (973,000) are officially out of work. Up 78,000 from the three months to April 2011 and likely to hit a million by the end of the year. The number of unemployed 16 to 17 year olds increased by 1,000 on the quarter to reach 203,000 while the number of unemployed 18 to 24 year olds rose by 77,000 to reach 769,000.
In line with international guidelines, people in full-time education are included in the youth unemployment estimates if they are looking for employment and are available to work. Excluding people in full-time education, there were 709,000 unemployed 16 to 24 year olds in the three months to July 2011, up 91,000 from the three months to April 2011. Equally concerning, the number of young people not in full-time education but considered ‘economically inactive’ is also up – now just under 800 000. Though many people in this category are not able to work, it includes those who have ‘given up’ looking for employment. With 25% of economically inactive people as a whole saying they ‘want a job’ – real levels of unemployment are much higher than official rates. This is particularly true with young people.
Publication of the unemployment figures have coincided with the announcement of plans for strike action in defence of pensions by the public sector unions. The ONS figures (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/index.html) show the largest ever recorded fall in the number of those in public sector jobs (employment in the public sector fell by 111 000 between March and June) and the number of people working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job is at its highest ever – 1.28 million. There has also been a 40% increase in the number of temporary workers unable to find a permanent job since the recession began. (http://www.ippr.org/uploadedFiles/pressreleases/Part-time%20and%20temporary%20work%20technical%20briefing.pdf)
These labour market changes mean that public sector unions need to build careful alliances and link their pension demands to broader social objectives so as to maintain mass support for their actions. Nowhere is this more so than in education where, as young people pile up qualifications but are unable to secure the sort of employment they deserve; teachers and their organisations must help promote alternatives.