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The hidden truth behind George Osborne’s record on jobs

Busting the “jobs miracle” myth of the Chancellor’s 2016 Budget.

George Osborne will begin his seventh budget by heralding Britain’s “jobs miracle” and congratulating himself on lowering unemployment to 5 per cent.

Britain, he will declare, is reaching “full employment”. Many of those still unemployed aren’t really jobless, they’re just at a stage of inevitable churn in-between jobs.

At first glance that view makes sense. More jobs are being advertised than at any other time in the past 15 years, and the number of people claiming benefits hasn’t been this low for four decades.

But the figures Osborne will boast about hide a darker truth: in dozens of constituencies around the UK, at least one in five people can’t find work. In some areas, as many as a quarter can’t find work, while more than half of those out of work don’t claim benefits.

The “real” unemployment rate across the UK is still nearly 12 per cent – nearly twice as great as the official rate, according to a new analysis by the New Statesman.

A real unemployment rate takes into account workers discouraged by the jobs market in their area.

The US Department of Labor calculates a “real” rate this way and publishes it alongside its official figures; Bernie Sanders has often highlighted such a metric during the US presidential campaign.

No such figure is widely reported in the UK, but our analysis reveals that the UK’s true rate of joblessness is – and has long been – about twice as great as the official rate.

The problem with the official rate is that it falls if an unemployed worker hasn’t sought a job in the past four weeks or can’t start one in the next fortnight. Once they stop seeking work, fewer people are classed as unemployed but no jobs have been created.

These workers are instead labeled as “economically inactive”, and added to the students, stay-at-home parents, retirees and the long-term ill who haven’t recently sought work.

Five per cent of the working age population is economically inactive but say they would like to seek work.

By adding these discouraged workers back into the unemployment rate we can get a true measure of the jobs market in each constituency.

The areas suffering the most are almost all of a type. As with Blackley, they are enclaves in big cities: from Birmingham Ladywood, Bradford West, Barking and Liverpool Walton, who all have high official unemployment rates, to Westminster North, Manchester Gorton and Liverpool Wavertree.

The official unemployment rate in these three latter seats, as well as in Gravesham to the east of London and Easington in County Durham, isn’t much above the national average. But counting discouraged workers unveils the true state of joblessness in these places.

This difference, between official and real unemployment, is particularly striking in Holborn & St Pancras.

Official unemployment is less than 6 per cent in the seat, yet our true measure suggests 22 per cent of people are either unable to find or have been discouraged from seeking work in this pocket of north London, making it the twelfth worst area for jobs in the UK.

But London arguably isn’t the country’s worst affected city. While Westminster North, Barking and Holborn blight the image of a city flooded by jobs, the real rate of unemployment in a number of London constituencies is below average.

These areas are unmarked, or in white, in the map below:

Yet true unemployment is largely concentrated in major city centres, with the worst-hit seats spread across the Newcastle, Cardiff, and the Manchester-Liverpool-Leeds metropolis.

But the dramatic differences across the country paint a pitiful picture of Tory initiatives to create jobs where they’re most needed.

On the end of the spectrum, many seats have real unemployment rates of just 3-5 per cent (and official rates of closer to 2 per cent). All data comes from the Labour Force Survey’s monthly reports, with geographic data via Nomis.

These are the seats where full employment is something of a reality. There aren’t many of them.

They aren’t successes to trumpet but a reminder of the areas where unemployment is seven to eight times greater.

On the verge of Osborne’s most pivotal second-term budget, one idea would win support from sides of the House: a concentrated jobs programme for the areas long left behind by both parties.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.