Don’t get carried away with headline fall in unemployment

Subtantial progress may not come until 2013

The drop in the latest unemployment figures is good news. It is the first time unemployment has fallen in ten months. But underneath the headline fall is bad news for women and some worrying trends that make substantial progress over the next year very unlikely.

Today’s fall in the overall jobless count masks a continuing rise in female unemployment, now higher than at any point since 1987. Since last month’s figures, there are an extra 8,000 women unemployed and 27,000 more women out of work for more than a year. In total, there are now more than a million women (1,136,000) unemployed, the highest since 1987 and a rise of 100,000 over the last year. Of those, over a quarter (29 per cent) of women (327,795) have been unemployed for more than a year.

Long term unemployment continues to rise, reaching its highest level since 1996. Overall, long term unemployment rose 26,000, the highest level since 1996, to a total of 882,821. While 1,000 men have left long-term unemployment, there are now 27,000 more women who have been out of work for more than a year. IPPR predicts there will be almost a million unemployed for more than a year by the end of 2012. There is a real risk that these people will struggle to take advantage of any upturn in the economy.

While youth unemployment has fallen by 9,000, there are still more than a million (1,033,440) young people (aged 16-24) unemployed, the second highest since comparable records began in 1992. Of those, 263,000 young people (aged 16-24) have been unemployed for more than a year. The Youth Contract has now begun, but it has a huge job to do.

Almost half a million (430,672) people over 50 are now unemployed, up 42,000 in the last year. More than 40 per cent of unemployed over fifties have been out of work for more than a year, up 13,000 over the last year to 189, 593. It’s going to be very tough indeed for over 50s out of work for more than a year to fund new jobs, even when the economy bounces back.

There has also been a rise in part-time work, which rose by 80,000 while the level of full-time employment fell by 27,000. There are now 1.4 million people working part-time because they say they cannot get longer hours.

Public sector employment contracted by 270,000 last year, while private sector employment increased by just 226,000. The resulting gap means rising unemployment. The economy is not being rebalanced by public sector job cuts because growth in the private sector continues to lag. There are actually 19,000 fewer vacancies in the economy than there were a year ago. Looking ahead, there is going to be a rise of 100,000 in unemployment this year, according to IPPR analysis of the latest forecast from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility.

This is already hitting the north of England hard. Over the last year, unemployment is up 22 per cent in the North West (an extra 57,000 out of work) and up 11 per cent in the North East (an extra 14,000 out of work). The chancellor is wasting the opportunity to boost national prosperity by ignoring the economic potential of the north.

The priority for the government must be to prevent long term unemployment, with a job guarantee, and to support women to get back to work, by prioritising childcare. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but that tunnel stretches well into 2013. Before it gets substantially better, it’s going to get worse.

Boarded up shops wait for redevelopment in the Hanley Shopping Centre in Stoke-On-Trent. Credit: Getty

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Workers' rights after Brexit? It's radio silence from the Tories

Theresa May promised to protect workers after leaving the EU. 

In her speech on Tuesday, Theresa May repeated her promise to “ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained".  It left me somewhat confused.

Last Friday, my bill to protect workers’ rights after Brexit was due to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons. Instead I sat and watched several Tory MPs speak about radios for more than four hours.

The Prime Minister and her Brexit Secretary, David Davis, have both previously made a clear promise in their speeches at Conservative Party conference to maintain all existing workers’ rights after Britain has left the European Union. Mr Davis even accused those who warned that workers’ rights may be put at risk of “scaremongering". 

My Bill would simply put the Prime Minister’s promise into law. Despite this fact, Conservative MPs showed their true colours and blocked a vote on it through filibustering - speaking for so long that the time runs out.

This included the following vital pieces of information being shared:

David Nuttall is on his second digital radio, because the first one unfortunately broke; Rebecca Pow really likes elephant garlic (whatever that is); Jo Churchill keeps her radio on a high shelf in the kitchen; and Seema Kennedy likes radio so much, she didn’t even own a television for a long time. The bill they were debating wasn’t opposed by Labour, so they could have stopped and called a vote at any point.

This practice isn’t new, but I was genuinely surprised that the Conservatives decided to block this bill.

There is nothing in my bill which would prevent Britain from leaving the EU.  I’ve already said that when the vote to trigger Article 50 comes to Parliament, I will vote for it. There is also nothing in the bill which would soften Brexit by keeping us tied to the EU. While I would personally like to see rights in the workplace expanded and enhanced, I limited the bill to simply maintaining what is currently in place, in order to make it as agreeable as possible.

So how can Theresa May's words be reconciled with the actions of her backbenchers on Friday? Well, just like when Lionel Hutz explains to Marge in the Simpsons that "there's the truth, and the truth", there are varying degrees to which the government can "protect workers' rights".

Brexit poses three immediate risks:

First, if the government were to repeal the European Communities Act without replacing it, all rights introduced to the UK through that piece of legislation would fall away, including parental leave, the working time directive, and equal rights for part-time and agency workers. The government’s Great Repeal Bill will prevent this from happening, so in that sense they will be "protecting workers’ rights".

However, the House of Commons Library has said that the Great Repeal Bill will leave those rights in secondary legislation, rather than primary legislation. While Britain is a member of the EU, there is only ever scope to enhance and extend rights over and above what had been agreed at a European level. After Brexit, without the floor of minimum rights currently provided by the EU, any future government could easily chip away at these protections, without even the need for a vote in Parliament, through what’s called a "statutory instrument". It will leave workers’ rights hanging by a thread.

The final change that could occur after we have left the EU is European Court rulings no longer applying in this country. There are a huge number of rulings which have furthered rights and increased wages for British workers - from care workers who do sleep-in shifts being paid for the full shift, not just the hours they’re awake; to mobile workers being granted the right to be paid for their travel time. These rulings may no longer have legal basis in Britain after we’ve left. 

My bill would have protected rights against all three of these risks. The government have thus far only said how they will protect against the first.

We know that May opposed the introduction of many of these rights as a backbencher and shadow minister; and that several of her Cabinet ministers have spoken about their desire to reduce employment protections, one even calling for them to be halved last year. The government has even announced it is looking at removing the right to strike from transport workers, which would contradict their May’s promise to protect workers’ rights before we’ve even left the EU.

The reality is that the Conservatives have spent the last six years reducing people’s rights at work - from introducing employment tribunal fees which are a barrier to justice for many, to their attack on workers’ ability to organise in the Trade Union Act. A few lines in May’s speech doesn’t undo the scepticism working people have about the Tories' intentions in this area. Until she puts her money where her mouth is, nor should they. 

Melanie Onn is the Labour MP for Great Grimsby.