Cameron will hail the jobs figures but the living standards crisis isn't over

Unemployment fell at its fastest rate since 1997 to 7.1% but average earnings rose by just 0.9% - 1.1% below inflation.

Ahead of PMQs, today's jobs figures are a gift for David Cameron. Unemployment has fallen from 7.4 per cent to 7.1 per cent, the sharpest drop since 1997 and the lowest level since the start of 2009. In the same quarter, employment rose by 280,000 (0.5 per cent), the biggest quarterly increase on record. There are still far too many people working part-time because they can't find full-time jobs (1.4 million) but the situation is better than almost anyone expected. As recently as August, when it introduced forward guidance for interest rates, the Bank of England expected unemployment to fall to 7 per cent (the trigger for the MPC to consider a rate rise) in 2016. It is now just 0.1 per cent above that level. 

The squeeze goes on 

Source: ONS

But the counterpart to the jobs boom is the wage squeeze. Average earnings are up by just 0.9 per cent (as people price themselves into work), leaving them 1.1 per cent below inflation. Those Tories who proclaimed the end of the "cost-of-living crisis" when inflation fell to the Bank's target rate of 2 per cent have been left looking predictably foolish. After five years of declining real wages, there is still no end in sight to the longest fall in living standards since 1870. So long as that remains the case, Cameron will still struggle to rebut Ed Miliband's attack lines. 

David Cameron during a visit to a Crossrail construction site underneath Tottenham Court Road in London earlier this week. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood