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.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.