Good news on unemployment - but will it last?

Unemployment has fallen to 7.9 per cent - but it's expected to rise next year.

Ahead of the first PMQs since the conference season, the latest employment figures offer a much-needed boost for David Cameron. Unemployment fell from 8.1 per cent to 7.9 per cent (or from 2.58m to 2.53m) over the last quarter, the lowest level since May 2011, while employment rose by 212,000 to 29.6 million, the highest level ever recorded. Similarly encouraging is the news that, for the first time in a year, youth unemployment is back below a million - it fell 62,000 to 957,000 (or from 21.8 per cent to 20.5 per cent) .

However, it's worth noting that 59 per cent (125,000) of the 212,000 new jobs created are part-time and that London was responsible for nearly half (101,000) of the rise in employment (a total of 1.4 million people are working part-time because they can't find full-time jobs), suggesting that the labour market received a temporary boost from the Olympics. The jobless rate rose by 0.2 per cent in Scotland and by 1.2 per cent in Northern Ireland. In addition, 6 per cent (13,000) of the 212,000 jobs are on "government supported training and employment programmes". In the last year, the number of people on these programs has risen by 89 per cent.

In addition, as I've pointed out before, unemployment is expected to rise next year to 2.7m owing to further spending cuts, a lack of growth, and rising productivity. For now, however, Cameron can promote a narrative of recovery.

The fall in unemployment is a boost for David Cameron ahead of today's Prime Minister's Questions. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.