Published on the morning of Osborne’s budget, labour market data for November to January shows a further increase in the number of those employed, up 600 000 to 29.73 million including a 200 000 increase in full-time employment over the last quarter –with ministers crowing about how the growth of private sector employment has offset the cutbacks in public sector jobs.
If these figures are difficult to comprehend at a time when the economy could still enter a triple-dip recession and unemployment continues to remain unchanged at 7.8%; one of the key explanations may be that increases in earnings are still way below increases in inflation. At £470 in January 2013, wages including bonus payments were just £5 per week higher than January 2012. The UK population has also grown by 1.7 million since 2008, meaning that the employment rate is still 1.7% lower than in 2008 (www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/mar/11/uk-850000-jobs-recession-resolution-foundation).
The population figures also show a growing proportion of over 65 year olds. Half the increase in employment during the last three years has been in the over 65 category. We should not blame high levels of youth unemployment on the increase in the number of over 65 year olds continuing to work – as many do this through economic necessity – but employment for the 18-24 age group reduced by 150 000 during the same period. The Nov-Jan labour market figures also show an increase in youth unemployment, up to 993 000 from 945 000 for 16-24 year olds and up to 800 000 from 747 000 for those over 18. Regardless of how the increase in employment is interpreted, young people continue to lose out.