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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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.