The jobs crisis is worsening

The pace of public sector job cuts means that unemployment is certain to rise this week.

Jobs, jobs, jobs, is the refrain that will echo through Westminster this week. The latest figures are out on Wednesday and unemployment, which currently stands at 2.57m (8.1 per cent), the highest level since 1994, is expected to rise again, while youth unemployment, which currently stands at 991,000, is expected to top a million. The danger of a lost generation is increasing every month.

To add to the gloom, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has warned that the labour market faces a "slow, painful, contraction" with firms delaying recruitment of more staff. Its quarterly poll of 1,000 private, public and voluntary organisations showed that employers in all three sectors intend to add fewer jobs in the coming months. CIPD public policy adviser Gerwyn Davies noted: "recruitment intentions are falling, which will make further rises in unemployment therefore seem inevitable given that public sector job losses are outpacing the predictions made by the Office for Budget Responsibility ... There is no immediate sign of UK labour market conditions improving in the short or medium term." Indeed, in the last quarter, the public sector shed 111,000 jobs, while the private sector created just 41,000.

Interviewed on the Today programme this morning, Mark Hoban, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, sounded alarmingly complacent. As is now traditional, he began by emphasising the damage the eurozone crisis has done to the British economy ("The crisis in the eurozone casts a long shadow over our economy") ignoring the fact that the growth was falling and unemployment rising long before the current imbroglio. Asked how the government would stimulate growth, he could only point to long-term measures such as "better road networks, better energy infrastructure." Ministers have not adopted one of the pro-growth policies proposed earlier this month in the New Statesman by nine of the world's leading economists.

In times of economic crisis, the state has a duty to act as the employer of last resort but the CPID predicts that 610,000 public-sector jobs will be lost by 2016, 210,000 more than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility. For this reason, 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. But that's a message to which George Osborne, besotted with austerity, remains tone deaf.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Anxiety is not cool, funny or fashionable

A charitable initative to encourage sufferers to knit a Christmas jumper signalling their condition is well-intentioned but way off the mark.

The other night, I had one of those teeth-falling-out dreams. I dreamt I was on a bus, and every time it stopped one of my teeth plunked effortlessly out of my skull. “Shit,” I said to myself, in the dream, “this is like one of those teeth-falling out dreams”. Because – without getting too Inception – even in its midst, I realised this style of anxiety dream is a huge cliché.

Were my subconscious a little more creative, maybe it would’ve concocted a situation where I was on a bus (sure, bus, why not?), feeling anxious (because I nearly always feel anxious) and I’m wearing a jumper with the word “ANXIOUS” scrawled across my tits, so I can no longer hyperventilate – in private — about having made a bad impression with the woman who just served me in Tesco. What if, in this jumper, those same men who tell women to “smile, love” start telling me to relax. What if I have to start explaining panic attacks, mid-panic attack? Thanks to mental health charity Anxiety UK, this more original take on the classic teeth-falling-out dream could become a reality. Last week, they introduced an awareness-raising Christmas “anxiety” jumper.

It’s difficult to slate anyone for doing something as objectively important as tackling the stigma around mental health problems. Then again, right now, I’m struggling to think of anything more anxiety-inducing than wearing any item of clothing that advertises my anxiety. Although I’m fully prepared to accept that I’m just not badass enough to wear such a thing. As someone whose personal style is “background lesbian”, the only words I want anywhere near my chest are “north” and “face”.  

It should probably be acknowledged that the anxiety jumper isn’t actually being sold ready to wear, but as a knitting pattern. The idea being that you make your own anxiety jumper, in whichever colours you find least/most stressful. I’m not going to go on about feeling “excluded” – as a non-knitter – from this campaign. At the same time, the “anxiety jumper” demographic is almost definitely twee middle class millennials who can/will knit.

Photo: Anxiety UK

Unintentionally, I’m sure, a jumper embellished with the word “anxious” touts an utterly debilitating condition as a trend. Much like, actually, the “anxiety club” jumper that was unanimously deemed awful earlier this year. Granted, the original anxiety jumper — we now live in a world with at least two anxiety jumpers — wasn’t charitable or ostensibly well intentioned. It had a rainbow on it. Which was either an astute, ironic comment on how un-rainbow-like  anxiety is or, more likely, a poorly judged non sequitur farted into existence by a bored designer. Maybe the same one who thought up the Urban Outfitters “depression” t-shirt of 2014.

From Zayn Malik to Oprah Winfrey, a growing number of celebrities are opening up about what may seem, to someone who has never struggled with anxiety, like the trendiest disorder of the decade. Anxiety, of course, isn’t trendy; it’s just incredibly common. As someone constantly reassured by the fact that, yes, millions of other people have (real life) panic meltdowns on public transport, I could hardly argue that we shouldn’t be discussing our personal experiences of anxiety. But you have to ask whether anyone would be comfortable wearing a jumper that said “schizophrenic” or “bulimic”. Anxiety, it has to be said, has a tendency – as one of the more “socially acceptable” mental illnesses — to steal the limelight.

But I hope we carry on talking anxiety. I’m not sure Movember actually gets us talking about prostates, but it puts them out there at least. If Christmas jumpers can do the same for the range of mental health issues under the “anxiety” umbrella, then move over, Rudolph.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.