The coalition’s year in numbers

Growth down, inflation up, public spending down, debt up – the story of the coalition in numbers.

It's now exactly a year since David Cameron and Nick Clegg stood together in the rose garden of No 10 and promised a "new politics". So, to mark the first anniversary of the coalition, I've put together some charts and graphs on the stats that define the government's year in office. Below are the numbers and a commentary on them.

History teaches us that numbers and statistics can come to define a government. Think of how the figure of three million unemployed became a shorthand for the failures of Thatcherism, or of how "Old Labour" is now remembered for marginal rates of tax as high as 98 per cent.

The current coalition will be remembered as the government that increased VAT to a record level of 20 per cent and that raised the cap on university tuition fees to £9,000. Ministers pledged that universities would charge the full amount in "exceptional circumstances" only, but of the 91 universities that have publicly announced their plans, 62 intend to charge the maximum fee.

University applications increased by just 2.1 per cent this year, compared to 15.3 per cent last year, a sign that young people are being deterred from applying even before higher fees kick in.

Nick Clegg, the man whose political credibility was destroyed by the decision to triple fees, has few reasons to be cheerful after the first year of the coalition. His approval rating has fallen from a post-debate high of +53 to -18 and support for the Liberal Democrats has plummeted from 21 per cent in May 2010 to just 8 per cent today. Chris Huhne's memorable prediction that support for his party would fall to 5 per cent may yet come true.

The Conservatives have fared significantly better. Support for David Cameron's party has fallen from a peak of 44 per cent in July 2010 to 36 per cent today but this remains the same level of support as achieved at the last general election. Cameron's own approval rating has fallen from a peak of +31 in July 2010 to -3, a poor, but not terrible, figure.

The economy continues to be plagued by a toxic combination of sluggish growth, high inflation and high unemployment. The jobless total (7.8 per cent) is slightly lower than it was a year ago, but youth unemployment, which now stands at 963,000 (20.4 per cent), has continued to rise. Private-sector employment has increased by 428,000 but public-sector workers are being laid off faster than expected, with 132,000 jobs lost over the past 12 months.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that there will be 310,000 fewer public-sector jobs by 2014-2015, a figure that now looks like an underestimate. Meanwhile, growth of just 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, which merely recovered the lost output from the previous quarter, means that the economy has not grown in the past six months.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development now expects Britain to grow at a slower pace than every other G7 economy with the exception of crisis-hit Japan. George Osborne may avoid a double-dip recession but an anaemic recovery now looks inevitable.

Party support and pproval ratings

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Source: YouGov; Ipsos MORI

The economy

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Sources: ONS; OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook – March 2011

Employment

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Sources: ONS Labour Force Survey; OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook – March 2011; CEBR

Higher education

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Sources: Ucas; Times Higher Education Supplement

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland