Part-time blues

The number of part-time workers who can't find full-time jobs has risen to a record high of 1.2 mill

When George Osborne declared last year that private-sector job creation would "far outweigh" public-sector job losses many dismissed him as a deluded ideologue. But the early signs are encouraging for the Chancellor.

The latest yearly figures show that private-sector employment has risen by 520,000, more than compensating for a 143,000 reduction in public-sector jobs. As a result, unemployment, which stood at 8 per cent three months ago, has fallen to 7.7 per cent, the largest drop since the summer of 2000. But these headline figures obscure several worrying trends.

A quarter of the new jobs created in the last year are part-time. Such jobs now account for 27.2 per cent of all employment. Significantly, the number of people who are working part-time because they couldn't find full-time jobs now stands at 1.2 million, the highest level since records began in 1992.

As the graph (see below) shows, this group has increased by 135,000 (12.5 per cent) over the past year. Over the same period, the number of temporary workers has risen to 1.6 million, a third of whom are in the jobs because they couldn't find permanent work.

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Public-sector workers are being laid off far faster than officially predicted. The Office for Budget Responsibility expects "general government employment" to fall by 20,000 between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. But the fact that 143,000 jobs have been lost in the past year suggests that this was an underestimate.

Should the OBR have miscalculated the rise in public-sector unemployment, the pressure on the private sector to maintain its current pace of job creation will be even greater.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The food issue