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The truth about unemployment

It would have been much worse under the Tories.

Tory bloggers like Iain Dale have been getting very excited about today's unemployment figures, ahead of the Chancellors' debate on BBC2 this afternoon.

The figures are bad - but, as ever, some context is needed.

From a TUC press release that just popped into my inbox:

If unemployment had followed the same trend in the recent downturn as that in the 1980s recession, it would have kept rising until November 2014 and the dole queues would have been twice as long, according to a TUC analysis of the latest unemployment figures published today.

Six months after the end of the recent recession, there are 1.54 million people claiming unemployment benefit and the numbers are falling throughout the country. But six months after the 1980s recession ended, there were 2.32 million people on the dole and the claimant count was still rising.

A TUC analysis of claimant count unemployment across the UK since 1980 shows that Scotland, Northern Ireland and the East Midlands took the longest to recover from the 1980s recession.

Back in the 1980s, the number of people claiming the dole was more than twice as high at its peak as it is today in cities such as Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Bristol, the TUC analysis shows.

Oh, and before you dismiss the TUC's analysis as leftie/Labour/trade union propaganda, here's CBI boss Richard Lambert speaking at the RSA in March:

Then there's the remarkable story of what's happened to the employment numbers in the course of this recession. Output has fallen by 6.2 per cent from the peak: unemployment is down just 1.9 per cent.

In the last recession, by contrast, GDP was down by 2.5 per cent and employment by 3.4 per cent.

The Tories, on the other hand, would have made unemployment much worse than it is now, with swingeing and immediate cuts to spending. Cameronomics has been tried in Ireland - and found wanting. Here's my NS colleague Danny Blanchlower, one of the world's leading labour-market economists, writing on the Irish experience:

In Ireland where the government has implemented Draconian public-spending cuts, unemployment now stands at 13.3 percent, up 5 percentage points on the year and rising at about 0.3 percent a month, with no peak in sight.

On Friday, the government will actually have some positive economic figures to trumpet, when the preliminary estimate of first quarter GDP growth for the UK is published. It's expected to show modest growth - 0.4 per cent? - and a further rise in manufacturing output. I'm intrigued as to how the Tories will respond. But, with the economy fragile and still reliant on public investment, I agree with Gordon Brown, the OECD, the IMF, David Blanchflower, Barack Obama, Vince Cable and the TUC - early spending cuts could plunge the UK back into recession and make unemployment much, much worse.

(The Conservative party, meanwhile, have released a new poster illustrating their depth of concern for the jobless.)