Five pieces of bad news from today's employment figures

Including: vacancies down, youth unemployment up and part-time workers up.

After several months of positive employment figures, today's are decidedly negative. Unemployment, which was expected to fall by around 10,000, has actually risen by 38,000 to 2.49m (7.9 per cent). But that's not the only grim statistic in today's data release, below are five other worrying trends.

1. Vacancies down.

The number of vacancies is down 22,000 over the quarter and down 28,000 over the year to 449,000, the lowest number since the three months to November 2009.

2. Youth unemployment up

Youth unemployment has risen by 15,000 to 949,000 (20.2 per cent) over the last quarter. There is a risk that it will rise further as thousands of A-level students enter the labour market for the first time.

The unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds not in full-time education has risen to 18.8 per cent, up 0.5 per cent from the three months to March.

3. Involuntary part-time workers up

The number of people working part-time because they can't find a full-time job has risen to a record high of 1.26m (see graph), up 7 per cent on the quarter and 17 per cent on the year. 16 per cent of Britain's 7.9m part-time workers fall into this category.

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4. Involuntary temporary workers up

The number of temporary workers who could not find a permanent job (as opposed to those who did not want one) has risen to 601,000, up 29,000 (5.1 per cent) over the last three months and up 33,000 (5.8 per cent) over the last year. 37 per cent of the UK's 1.6m temporary workers fall into this category.

5. Women hit hardest

Female unemployment rose by 21,000 over the quarter (male unemployment rose by 18,000) to reach 1.05m, the highest figure since 1988. With women making up 65 per cent of the public sector workforce, it's unsurprising that they've been hit hardest by the coalition's cuts.

Women also bore the brunt of redundancies with 69,000 made redundant over the last three months, up 25,000 (56.5 per cent) on the quarter and 20,000 (41.5 per cent) on the year.

 

The coalition can still point to the fact that there are now 29.27m people in employment, 251,000 (0.9 per cent) more than year ago, and that the rise in private sector employment has (so far) compensated for the fall in public sector employment. There are 520,000 more private sector workers than a year ago, compared with 143,000 fewer public sector workers. But with the biggest cuts yet to come and growth significantly lower than expected, things could be about to get very grim indeed.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why there's never been a worse year to leave the EU than 2017

A series of elections will mean Britain's Brexit deal will be on the backburner until at least January 2018. 

So that's it. Theresa May has invoked Article 50, and begun Britain’s formal exit from the European Union.

Britain and the EU27 have two years to make a deal or Britain will crash out without a deal. There are two ways out of that – firstly, it's possible that Britain could withdraw its invocation of Article 50, though the European Court of Justice has yet to rule on whether Article 50 is reversible or not. 

But if the government reaches the end of the two-year window, the timetable can only be extended with the unanimous agreement of not only the heads of the 27 other member states of the European Union, but the United Kingdom as well. Although both sides would suffer economic damage from an unplanned exit, no-one has done particularly well betting on economic self-interest as far as either Britain or the European Union in general is concerned, let alone when the two’s relationship with another is the subject.

For May in particular, the politics of extending the timetable are fraught. Downing Street wants Brexit done and dusted by 2019 to prevent it becoming a destabilising issue in the 2020 election, and in any case, any extension would provoke ructions in the Conservative Party and the pro-Brexit press.

But the chances that the EU27 and the UK will not come to an agreement at all, particularly by March 2019, are high. Why? In a stroke of misfortune for Britain, 2017 is very probably the worst year in decades to try to leave the European Union. Not just because of the various threats outside the bloc – the election of Donald Trump and the growing assertiveness of Russia – but because of the electoral turmoil inside of it.

May will trigger Article 50 at exactly the time that the French political class turns inward completely in the race to pick François Hollande’s successor as President enters its final stretch. Although a new president will be elected by 7 May, politics in that country will then turn to legislative elections in June. That will be particularly acute if, as now looks likely, Emmanuel Macron wins the presidency, as the French Left will be in an advanced state of if not collapse, at least profound transformation. (If, as is possible but not likely, Marine Le Pen is elected President, then that will also throw Britain's Brexit renegotiations off course but that won't matter as much as the European Union will probably collapse.) 

That the Dutch elections saw a better showing for Mark Rutte's Liberals means that he will go into Brexit talks knowing that he will be Prime Minister for the foreseeable future, but Rutte and the Netherlands, close allies of the United Kingdom, will be preoccupied by coalition negotiations, potentially for much of the year.

By the time the new President and the new legislative assembly are in place in France, Germany will enter election mode as Angela Merkel seeks re-election. Although the candidacy of Martin Schulz has transformed the centre-left SPD's poll rating, it has failed to dent Merkel's centre-right CDU/CSU bloc significantly and she is still in the box seat to finish first, albeit by a narrow margin. Neither Merkel's Christian Democrats or Schulz's Social Democrats, are keen to continue their increasingly acrimonious coalition, but it still looks likely that there will be no other viable coalition. That means there will be a prolonged and acrimonious period of negotiations before a new governing coalition emerges.

All of which makes it likely that Article 50 discussions will not begin in earnest before January 2018 at the earliest, almost halfway through the time allotted for Britain’s exit talks. And that could be further delayed if either the Italian elections or the Italian banking sector causes a political crisis in the Eurozone.

All of which means that May's chances of a good Brexit deal are significantly smaller than they would be had she waited until after the German elections to trigger Article 50. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.