Cameron misleads parliament on jobs figures

The PM falsely claimed that 500,000 private-sector jobs had been created since the election.

One of David Cameron's favourite myths is that half a million private-sector jobs have been created "since the election". He repeated it at today's PMQs. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the data tells a different story.

Since March 2010, private sector employment has risen by 575,000 but Cameron's use of the phrase "since the election" means that any figures from before 6 May are irrelevant. However, to complicate matters, the Office for National Statistics figures in question straddle the election, covering 1 April to 30 June. But the fact that private-sector employment has risen by just 264,000 since June 2010, means that, as Channel 4's Cathy Newman has previously noted, Cameron's claim only holds good if we assume that 236,000 jobs were created between 6 May and 30 June. The ONS doesn't publish month-by-month figures but the data that we do have suggests that the majority of job creation in Q2 2010 took place before the election. The ONS's "experimental" labour force figures show that 129,000 jobs were created in April 2010 but that 89,000 were lost in June.

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Cameron and George Osborne have consistently claimed that private-sector job creation will "far outweigh" the job losses in the public-sector. But in the last year, 240,000 public-sector jobs have been lost and 264,000 private-sector jobs have been created, a net increase of just 24,000 [see graph]. Worse, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development [CIPD] has predicted that 610,000 public-sector jobs will be lost by 2016, 210,000 more than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility [see Box 3.6 on p. 73 of the OBR's Economic and Fiscal Outlook].

You don't need to be a statist social democrat to be troubled by this prediction. Every public-sector job that is cut costs the state around £8-10,000 in benefits and lost taxes. The CIPD, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, has called for the government to halt its public sector job cuts until the private sector has recovered. If Osborne wants to avoid even worse unemployment figures, he should follow their advice.

P.S. Don't miss our special Plan B package in tomorrow's issue. Nine of the world's top economists, including Noble Prize winner Christopher Pissarides, Jeffrey Sachs and Robert Skidelsky present George Osborne with their alternatives to austerity.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.