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: Getty
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If the left leaves it to David Cameron, we'll have Brexit for sure

Only an upbeat, leftwing case can keep Britain in the European Union.

After months flapping and hesitation, and with much of the reporting and detail so dull that it has barely penetrated the consciousness of even those who speak the language of ‘directives’ and treaty provisions, the EU referendum is upon us. With David Cameron signalling concrete outcomes for negotiations, we seem to be set for June, whatever the protests from opposition parties about the date being too close to local and national elections.  

Cameron’s deal, whose most substantive element consists of denying in-work benefits to European citizens, exemplifies the kind of debate that Conservative strategists want to create: a tedious, labyrinthine parochialism, blending the EU’s procedural dullness with an unquestioned mythology of the little Englander. Try actually reading the various letters, let alone the draft decisions, that Cameron extracted from Donald Tusk, and the agreement turns to putty in your head. But in summary, what Cameron is negotiating is designed to keep the EU debate as an in-house affair within the right, to continue and formalise the framing of the debate as between two strains of anti-migrant sentiment, both of them backed by big business.

The deal may be reactionary, but it is also mediocre in its scope and impact. The worries that many of us had in the leftwing pro-In camp, that Cameron’s deal would push back freedom of movement and working and environmental protections so far that we would be unable to mobilise for continued membership of the EU, can now be put to bed. Quite the opposite of allowing Cameron's narrative to demoralise us, the left must now seize an opportunity to put imagination and ideas back at the heart of the referendum debate.

The British political landscape in which that debate will play out is a deceptively volatile environment. Party allegiance is at a nearly all time low. Inequality is growing, and so is the gap between attitudes. The backbone of the UKIP vote – and much of the Out vote – will come from a demographic that, sometimes impoverished by the legacy of Thatcherite economic policy, sees itself as left behind by migration and change. On top of the class war, there is a kind of culture war underway in today’s Britain: on one side those who see LGBT rights, open borders and internationalism as the future; on the other side, those who are scared of the future. About the only thing these groups have in common with one another is their anti-establishment instincts, their total disdain and mistrust of politics as usual.

The only political movement to have broken through the fog of cynicism and disillusionment in British politics has come from the left. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the Labour has unleashed something new - and while large parts of the press, and some Labour backbenchers, have portrayed this rise as a crusade of the “croissant eating” metropolitan elite, the reality is very different. The rise of the new Labour left has given voice to a renewed socialist and working class politics; its explicitly radical, outsider approach has given it traction across the social divides – among the young looking for a future, and among Labour’s old base. 

A politics of hope – however vague that term might sound – is the only real answer to the populist Euroscepticism that the Out campaign will seek to embody. Radical politics, that proposes an alternative narrative to the scapegoating of migrants, has to find voice in the course of this referendum campaign: put simply, we need to persuade a minimum wage worker that they have more in common with a fellow Polish migrant worker than they do with their employer; we need to persuade someone on a social housing waiting list should blame the privatisation of the housing market, not other homeless families. Fundamentally, the real debate to be had is about who the public blames for social injustice: that is a question which only the left can satisfactorily answer.

The outsider-led volatility of British politics gives the EU referendum a special kind of unpredictability. For voters who have lost faith in the political establishment – and who often have little materially to lose from Brexit – the opportunity to deliver a blow to David Cameron this summer will be tempting. The almost consciously boring, business-dominated Britain Stronger In Europe campaign makes a perfect target for disenfranchised public sentiment, its campaigning style less informed by a metropolitan elite than by the landed gentry. Its main weapons – fear, danger and uncertainty – will work on some parts of the electorate, but will backfire on others, much as the Better Together campaign did in the Scottish referendum.

Last night, Another Europe is Possible held a launch meeting of about a hundred people in central London - with the backing of dozens of MPs, campaigners and academics across the country. It will aim to provide a radical, left wing voice to keep Britain in the EU.

If Britain votes to leave the EU in June, it will give the Right a mandate for a renewed set of attacks on workers’ rights, environmental protections, migrants and freedom of movement. But without an injection of idealism and radicalism,  an In vote will be a mandate for the status quo - at home and in Brussels. In order to seize the real potential of the referendum, the left has to approach the campaign with big ideas and demands. And we have to mobilise.