Recent headlines proclaimed a rise in Scottish jobless figures and that employment also fell. But a quick glance at “other related stories” on BBC Scotland’s website highlights just how confusing it all is. “Scottish jobless figures improve (September 2011); number of Scots out of work rises (August 2011); Scots job market improves again (July 2011); and Mixed news for Scots job market (June 2011)” So which is it?
Alongside those determined to create a headline a day, I’m not sure the official bean-counters are helping matters much. They – the ONS – count quarterly job figures. This used to be, as far as my burd brain can recall, January to March; April to June (an important quarter marking the end and start of a new financial year); July to September and October to December. So how come we are now counting June to August – answers from experts please in the comment thread would be much welcome.
In case you missed it, in the last three months (June to August) compared to the previous three months (April to June) 7,000 more people lost their jobs in Scotland while it fell in the UK as a whole. But compared to the same period last year (that’s June to August 2010), unemployment in Scotland fell by 17,000 while it rose in the UK by 113,000. Generally, our unemployment trend over the last year has been downward while at UK level it is upwards. It remains to be seen whether this quarter’s figures are a seasonal blip or the start of a more worrying long-term reversal.
For there are alarming indicators in this quarter’s jobless figures. The overall employment rate in Scotland fell by 24,000 translating into a fall of 20,000 over the year. So over twelve months, we have had a net gain in people going into work of 4,000, again against a more dismal trend in the UK.
This would appear to back up the predictions of the Item Club which in June forecast that in the next year, 16,000 jobs will be added, mainly from the private sector, for it also forecasts a net loss of 40,000 public sector jobs. By 2014, it is predicting that more than half of all jobs will sit in the private sector.
But at the same time, it is also forecasting depressed growth for Scotland compared to the UK as a whole. In 2011, the economy here will grow by 1.7% and in 2012, by 1.9% while UK growth is forecast to be 1.8% and 2.4% respectively. If these growth predictions bear out, I fail to see how the expected jobs boom in the private sector will materialise.
Moreover, the claimant count – that is the number of people on Job Seeker’s Allowance – fell in September (a monthly figure – I know, mixing the methodology, not good) by 200 while it rose by 17,500. So more folk out of work, but fewer on JSA. That to me suggests longer term unemployment with people moving after a year onto another benefit, as the rules demand.
But such trends cannot be discerned at “regional level” (sic) because the Office of National Statistics does not publish detailed breakdowns for things like claimant count, gender or age demographics below UK in this first round of quarterly reporting. Scottish data will come later, ensuring a lag. This matters because we already know at UK level that youth unemployment is on the up, running at an eye-watering 37.4% for 16 and 17 year olds and 19.1% for 18 – 24 year olds. There are now over 2.5 million economically inactive 16 – 24 year olds across the UK. A lost generation indeed.
The Scottish Government put tackling youth unemployment front and central of its Programme for Government with the Opportunities for All initiative, guaranteeing every young person not already in education or work or an apprenticeship, a training or college place. It is a great commitment but remains to be seen how successful it can be, given that there are at least 10,000 young people in Scotland who could not access work, education or training, even during the boom times, because of their complex support needs.
Also worrying is that many of the jobs being lost are part-time ones. Previous evidence suggests that this is where women are more likely to be concentrated, just as they are more likely to be found in the public sector. It matters that more women are losing their jobs than men, because of the draconian welfare reform measures coming down the line which will stop benefit for anyone, and in particular lone parents, who do not take up job offers. It is why the current amendments being pushed by voluntary organisations on childcare provision are so important. Stopping benefit for women claimants who cannot find work because it is not there or because they cannot find suitable, affordable childcare might help reduce the welfare bill but how are they supposed to support their families?
Already the Institute of Fiscal Studies is projecting that both the UK and Scotland will miss their targets to end child poverty by 2020 and that child poverty will in fact increase significantly over the next few years. Where is the Opportunity for all programme for these families? Indeed, there is very little in the Scottish Government’s Plan MacB that focuses on particular demographic groups or that enables a gendered approach to be taken to training and job creation. If we are to avoid worsening inequality, we need a more subtle approach and direction to its economic growth strategy. Investing in infrastructure on the whole is a good thing but the construction sector is not particularly known for its gender balance in employment.
The official diagnosis of the burd is bumpy. It’s up a bit, down a bit and a medium term prognosis of not very good, particularly for young people and women. It’s not very scientific but I’m not sure any of the supposed experts can come up with anything better. And until someone, somewhere is doing a regular map of losses, gains and demographic hits and misses that is visited and updated regularly, then it will remain difficult to pin down any trends with certainty.
In the 1980s, I recall ITN’s News at Ten doing a Friday night round-up with a great big map of the UK, announcing job losses and gains and running a totaliser. It was compulsive viewing, for in easy to understand terms, it laid bare how horrid the times were for families and communities everywhere. Surely someone, somewhere could resurrect the format?