Five questions answered on the 5,000 drop in UK unemployment

“The jobs market appears to be moderately improving".

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that UK unemployment has fallen by 5,000. We answer five questions on this recent drop in UK joblessness.

How many people are now currently unemployed?

According to ONS, the jobless rate has fallen by 5,000 to 2.5 million with the number of people claiming jobseekers allowance falling by 8,600 in May to 1.5 million

How many people are now currently in work?

After a rise of 24,000 in recent months a record 29.7 million people are currently in work. This means that the UK employment rate is now 71.5 per cent, while 7.8 per cent of the population is jobless.

What about youth unemployment?

Unemployment for those aged between 16 and 24 has also fallen from 43,000 to 950,000. However, those who are long term unemployed – those looking for work for longer than a year – was up by 11,000 to almost 900,000.

Women also came out badly in the statistics with the number of women out of a job rising by 7,000 to 1.09m.

What about average earnings and inflation?

Average earnings in April rose by 3.3 per cent, mostly due to companies paying out bonuses to workers a month later this year than last. This figure is a 1.3 per cent jump in total earnings from a year earlier.

However, this rise is dampened by the 2.4 per cent rise in consumer prices in the year to April.

What are the experts saying about these figures?

Peter Dixon, an economist at Commerzbank AG in London told Bloomberg:

“The jobs market appears to be moderately improving.

 “We may see a pickup in output without a further increase in employment.”

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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