Government complacency on the jobs market masks a series of policy failures

The level of youth employment in the UK is comparable to the Eurozone

Job centre 2


The jobs figures published this week expose government labour market complacency. Unemployment is up, as it was last month. Youth unemployment – almost three times higher than overall unemployment – is up. Unemployment among older workers is up, and the number claiming incapacity benefits is up.

And the number of vacancies is up as well. Employers all over the country are struggling to find skills they desperately need. Last month, the CBI was right to highlight a ‘skills emergency’There is an urgent requirement to boost training and apprenticeships, so that people are equipped with skills to secure the jobs our recovering economy is creating.  

We welcome commitment to three million apprenticeships. Too often, however, the quality has proved to be poor – and the number of young people starting apprenticeships actually went down last year.

We are now one year on from the government’s decision to scrap the Youth Contract Wage Incentive Scheme. It was a dismal flop, and missed its targets by a country mile. Half-hearted measures abandoned mid-way simply aren’t good enough. No attempt has been made to introduce something more effective, and so youth unemployment has remained stubbornly high.  

The government’s own Commission on Employment and Skills (p.6) has highlighted how damaging it is that UK levels of youth unemployment are comparable with levels in the Eurozone, and that 40 per cent of unemployed people in Britain are under 25.

Usually, when unemployment falls, the number claiming incapacity benefits falls too. Not this time. New figures in this month’s labour market statistics show the number in February 2015 was up 73,900 on the previous year (3 per cent), a period in which unemployment fell by almost half a million.

The government unwisely undertook a rushed re-assessment of people claiming the old Incapacity Benefit, without ensuring sufficient capacity in the assessment system. It went badly wrong. Many people were refused benefit and then won it back on appeal. There have been large backlogs and delays. Atos eventually threw in the towel and walked away from their assessment contract.

The Work Programme has performed particularly badly for this group. Fewer than 10 per cent of claimants of Employment and Support Allowance, after two years on the Work Programme, had secured lasting employment. DWP had initially said 15 per cent of ESA claimants would get sustained job outcomes within two years if there was no programme at all.

Spending on ESA this year is forecast to be £14.7 billion, £4.5 billion more than was projected in 2011. In 2011 the government said spending would go down from £13.2 bn in 2010-11 to £10.2 bn in 2015-16. In fact it has gone up. It has been a major policy failure. 

Clutching at straws, ministers blamed the unemployment rise this month on uncertainty before the General Election. But the figures cover April to June, mostly after the election!  Far fetched excuses will not do. We need commitment, not complacency.

Stephen Timms is shadow minister for employment. Follow him on Twitter

8 Responses to “Government complacency on the jobs market masks a series of policy failures”

  1. gaia

    While i quite agree the reality of the situation is very unpromising and in earnest believe going to get worse, lets face it the way statistics are gathered and used is equally as bad yet like the conservatives, Labour does little to highlight this.

    Considering the plight that faces all of us, these by far and large guesstimates do need to be of a headcount nature rather than the popular fish catchers equation don’t you think ?

    The sole reason im not a lover of any party is there to busy putting themselves ahead of the public there suppose to represent so i seriously hope Labour does become the party of the people it once use to be rather than the failed stank presence that Blair left behind.

  2. Yvonne Lunde-andreassen

    lack of skills in UK : Remember Tony Blair’s promise of “EDUCATION EDUCATION EDUCATION “

  3. Mike Stallard

    Of course this has absolutely nothing to do with the Comprehensive School system which Labour has supported (and so have the Conservatives) for years. OK Lord Adonis invented Academies which are slightly better. And there is the total swindle of the (un)Free Schools, run neatly from Whitehall.
    Some ideas:
    1. Make people earn the dole like they used to when there were stamps.
    2. Free up employers and allow them to take a few risks with employing people and being able to sack them. You should hear our local newsagent on paper boys!
    3. Allow Comprehensives to split into much smaller units with competition seen as a good thing. At the moment, ruthless competition cuts in at the end with UCAS. It might be better if it came a lot earlier. Equality so often means a race to the bottom.
    4. Nerds and the Challenged (in one way or another) are indeed special cases. They should BOTH be treated as such. Meanwhile we ought to take on board the fact that most children are normal. They want a family life with holidays, they want to work and earn. They want to have a nice comfortable life. And they are prepared to work for it. So why try and make them all into failed nerds?

  4. Mike Stallard

    I read this comment and weep inwardly.

  5. gaia

    1: Quite agree and considering government is gutting public servants, what better way to serve the community than to use the individual claimants skillsets to plug it while seeking work in the private sector. For the unskilled or young the councils could offer them the opportunity to taste the various sectors they cover until one desired is found. By tying hours and position to serve directly to the amount of benefits they claim we could demonstrate the values of a min wage and progression while also covering the dreaded work gap that forms languishing on benefits between work.
    2: Employers have never been prevented in investing in there employees, nor prevented a honeymoon period for both them and there employees training or not.
    3:Competion at any juncture while having certain benefits also has the drawback of capitalism being for every winner, there must be a loser. This would still leave us with what would be viewed under achievers which at a time where technology is beginning to dictate the labour market requirements would put us in no different position to what we find ourselves in now.
    4: Children are losing there childhood (being forced to grow up earlier) dew to ever growing societal demands/systems mixed with advertisings persistence to invade there lives with you need this, you need to be that which is further indented by there chosen role models.
    As for any reference to nerds and the challenged is to further create class indifference as the only difference is ones freely given choice to apply oneself. Nerds don’t fail, society fails them.

  6. blarg1987

    Lets be fair about apprenticeships, employers decided to stop doing them until the taxpayer ended up bribing companies to start them up again.

    There is a higher expectation that employers expect staff readily trained that can jump into a job with little or no training, while the reality is that they always do need on the job training to fit the role.

    I do concede there are also some policy failures on education, however a bigger onus should be on employers to actually train staff instead of trying to offload liability onto the taxpayer therefore earning themselves a bonus by reducing employment costs.

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  8. sssvenkat

    Make people earn the dole like they used to when there were stamps.

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