What do the unemployment figures actually show?

There was no good news in today's figures -- and this is just the beginning.

The awful unemployment numbers today came as no surprise to those of us who have been arguing these many months that George Osborne's economic strategy is disastrous for the British economy. There was never the slightest prospect of a expansionary fiscal contraction in the depths of a once-in-a-century financial crisis.

This is all likely to get a lot worse over the next few months. Unemployment rising, the number of jobs and total hours falling and rising unemployment durations. There was no good news.

David Cameron, master of understatement, admitted at PMQs today, at which he took a batterring over the economy, that the numbers were "disappointing". Indeed, Labour today accused Cameron of "bluster, evasion and untruths" in his attempt to defend what they called his "failing economic record". Liam Byrne, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said:

David Cameron's complacency today was simply breathtaking. And, under pressure to explain why unemployment is rising and the economy flatlining, he once again resorted to bluster and evasion and got his figures badly wrong.

So what did the ONS data release actually show, rather than what the Prime Minister wished they showed?

1. An increase in ILO unemployment of 80,000 on the rolling May-July quarter, going over the 2.5 million mark. The unemployment rate remains at 7.9 per cent.

2. The more timely claimant count for August increased by 20,000.

3. There was a growth of 29,000 of discouraged workers, who were out of the labour force but reported that they wanted a job

4. Employment fell by 69,000 on the quarter but was up 24,000 on the year. Workforce jobs were down 100,000 on the quarter and down 41,000 on the year.

5. Public-sector jobs fell 111,000 on the quarter and 240,000 on the year, contrary to what Cameron falsely claimed at PMQs today. Private-sector jobs were up 41,000 on the quarter and 264, 000 on the year. This is approximately half the 500,000 jobs that Osborne recently claimed had been created under his watch. It is becoming clear, as we get more data, that most of the jobs created were under Darling's watch.

These numbers are set to worsen further and as each month goes by, it will become increasingly obvious that private-sector job creation is slowing fast. Time to own these numbers, George. Your policy is failing fast.

6. Hours picked up a little, but as I suggested in an earlier blog, the decline observed over the past couple of months was not just because of bank holidays, as David Smith recently claimed on his blog. Total hours were 914.3 million on the quarter, down from 921.3 million in May-July 2010 when the coalition took office.

7. Youth unemployment rose by 78,000 on the quarter to 973,000. Especially worrying was the rise of 35,000 of 18-to-24-year-olds on the quarter who had been unemployed for 12 months or more. The number of 18-to-24-year-olds on the claimant count for at least 12 months was also up on the month. Long duration unemployment is especially bad and shamefully, the government seems to have no policy to deal with this growing problem.

8. Wage pressure remains benign. Regular pay rose by 1.7 per cent on the month so, with inflation at 4.5 per cent, driven primarily by Osborne's VAT increase, most workers are having real pay cuts.

9. Scotland was the only region that saw falling unemployment on the quarter.

This is just the start of a flood of dreadful economic news that is expected to hit us over the next couple of months. The coalition government's economic strategy is in tatters.

Ed Balls and Ed Milband are going to have a field day with Natalie Rowe's -- aka Mistress Pain -- claims of Osborne's cocaine use and his interest in her work as a dominatrix. Talk of paddles, whips, chains and handcuffs are certainly not going to do much for his credibility, which is already in tatters as the economy tanks. Osborne's sneering is going to come back to haunt him. The Labour leader today suggested at PMQs that the Chancellor had "lashed himself to the mast. Not for the first time perhaps!"

Sadly, the coalition appears to believe that unemployment is a price worth paying. I suspect that the British people will have something to say about that.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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When Theresa May speaks, why don't we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.