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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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