Against the odds, and despite lacking direct access to all the economic levers, the SNP government has managed to keep Scotland working. Since 2010, their stewardship has resulted in more people finding work and fewer people losing jobs. In the year to July, 55,000 more people have found jobs. At the same time, the unemployment rate fell below that of the UK as a whole. Moreover, fewer people are economically inactive – that is, not in work, education or training. That rate fell by 35,000 in the last year. These are remarkable achievements and deserving of plaudits.
But beneath the headlines is a much more mixed picture.
First, there is a gender divide on the jobs front. While male unemployment is still marginally higher in Scotland than in the UK as a whole, it is falling – by some 19,000 over the last year. And while female unemployment in Scotland is also lower than that for the UK, over the last year, more women have lost their jobs. There are now 4,000 more women out of work than this time last year.
Second, the claimant count – which is measured differently from the jobless rate – is rising, albeit more slowly than for the UK. At the end of June, 139,615 people were claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, a rise of 6,380 in twelve months and a rise of 11,595 compared to 2009. And again, the number of women claiming JSA is rising while the number of men claiming the benefit is falling. According to the statisticians, the reasons behind this are complex, possibly due to a “correction in unemployment (particularly among men) following weak labour market performance in 2010; and women being affected by reductions in public sector employment”. Most worryingly, the claimant count rate is expected to rise still further in the next two years, mainly due to welfare reform.
Third, we are starting to see falls in the number of people employed in the public sector. In the first quarter of 2011 (April to June), public sector employment fell to just under 25% of total employment. It is still higher than in 1999 when it represented 23.8% but this is partly explained by bank employees bailed out by the taxpayer now counting as public sector workers. The biggest fall has been experienced in devolved public sector jobs and particularly in local government, with 9,800 fewer people employed by councils compared to the first quarter of 2010.
Meanwhile, the number of people employed in reserved public sector positions has actually increased. While the numbers in civil service jobs have fallen, those employed by public sector financial institutions – that’s Royal Bank of Scotland, Northern Rock and Lloyds HBOS to you and me – has gone up by 3,600 or 9.9%. Who knew?
Finally, there is an alarming increase in the numbers of long term unemployed. There are 23,000 more people unemployed than there were two years ago. And if we look at the claimant count, 20,640 have been in receipt of JSA for a year or more. This represents a drop of 2.1% compared to the same period to 2010 but it is a whacking 88.5% increase over the last two years. While the rate of long term unemployment has fallen in 18 out of 32 local authority areas, it has risen in the remaining 14, emphasising the growing divide across Scotland’s communities between those in work and those not. However, some of those are surprising: Aberdeen has recorded an increase in long term unemployed of 126%, East Lothian an increase of 233%, East Renfrewshire of 210%, Edinburgh 126%, Perth and Kinross 278% and Scottish Borders has experienced a 200% rise in people being out of work for two years or more.
Dig beneath the headlines and you uncover much less good news on the unemployment front. While more jobs are being created, they are likely to be filled by men rather than women. And if you are out of work for more than a year, it seems to become harder to find a job. Meanwhile, job losses in the public sector, and particularly in local authorities, are beginning to bite. But aren’t you glad that your hard earned taxes are going to keep more bankers in work than at the height of the recession? Does our largesse know no bounds?
The SNP would – with some justification – argue that Scotland needs its hands on all the economic levers to sort our economy properly. At the moment, they can only do so much to create the right environments for jobs. But how far has its economic strategy been finessed to ensure the long term unemployed, economically inactive and women can all return to or stay in work?
For an answer of sorts, look out for part two of this analysis, which will be posted tomorrow, over at Better Nation. Bet you can’t wait…
All data and quotes are taken from the Scottish Government’s Labour Market Monthly Briefing for July 2011