The one number that explains the employment situation

5.6 people are chasing every one job. Without reducing this number, unemployment can never substanti

Perhaps the best single piece of news in the unemployment data isn't the reduction in the number of unemployed people, which, though a positive indicator, obscures a number of less positive results. It is instead the reduction in the number of unemployed people per vacancy, which now stands at 5.6, down from 5.9.

The data has also allowed the TUC to recompile their list of employment blackspots – those places where this ratio rises to unacceptable heights:

Local Authority

Region

Claimant Count

Vacancies

Ratio

West Dunbartonshire

Scotland

4,036

111

36.4

Inverclyde

Scotland

3,023

84

36.0

Lewisham

London

10,886

318

34.2

Hackney

London

10,869

461

23.6

Blaenau Gwent

Wales

3,393

150

22.6

Hartlepool

North East

4,671

214

21.8

Eilean Siar

Scotland

566

26

21.8

Lambeth

London

12,362

592

20.9

Kingston upon Hull

Yorkshire & Humber

15,431

759

20.3

Haringey

London

10,393

552

18.8

These figures should pour cold water on the government's triumph at the evidence that their work experience programme is effective at getting people back into employment. Yes, this is good news (although also, of course, the minimum that should be expected from a programme which, until recently, threatened people with loss of benefits if they did not volunteer their time). But unless the programme reduces this ratio of unemployed people to vacancies, then all it does is fill vacancies with one set of people rather than another.

When there are five people competing for every vacancy the best way to make unemployment go down is to create new jobs to fill. There are other ways to reduce the figure - for instance, the government could make seeking work so unpleasant that people stop claiming jobseekers' allowance and eventually stop looking for work altogether - but they are merely massaging the figures, rather than solving the problem. Helping people get what vacancies there when low growth means that there are no new jobs will do nothing for the unemployment figures.

It is the fundamental difference between acting on an individual level and a societal one.

A building site in Lewisham, an employment blackspot. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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