Latest unemployment figures show vacancies up and redundancies down

Today’s unemployment figures show the labour market has stood up to the recession much more strongly than in the past, with vacancies up and redundancies down.

Today’s unemployment figures show that the labour market has stood up to the recession much more strongly than in the past, but that the prospects for the remainder of 2010 remain highly uncertain. As ever, the combination of different measures and different time periods makes drawing firm conclusions about what’s going on part rigorous analysis, part sticking your finger in the air.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) unemployment fell by 3,000 between October and December, compared to the previous quarter (that’s pretty much a statistical dead heat). Conversely, the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance rose by 23,500 in January, following two monthly falls. The post Christmas period is always a tough time for jobs, so a rise was to be expected.

We’re almost certain to see a similar trend on the ILO measure once the data for the new year feeds through into the published figures.

Looking back to what was happening this time last year underlines that the labour market is now in a far better state than it was then. The February 2009 stats showed a 73,000 rise in the JSA rate and a 146,000 jump in ILO unemployment.

Today’s numbers on vacancies and redundancies – the former up and the latter down – clearly shows we have turned a corner:

Beneath the headline figures the mixed picture continues. Youth unemployment fell again, by 13,000 on the quarter, but the number out of work for over a year rose by 37,000 during the same period. There are now 663,000 people long term unemployed, making the need for a job guarantee scheme even more pressing.

With private sector demand still weak and a public sector squeeze on the horizon, the prospects for job growth – rather than flat line – remains highly uncertain. Surely this is not the time to be withdrawing government support from the economy?

The Department for Work and Pensions has also released statistics on inactive benefits, which include preliminary figures showing that the number of people on disability benefits fell during the year to 2009. If these numbers are verified it would be the real story of the recession – preventing people becoming permanently detached from the world of work, which was the devastating and long term consequence of the last two recessions

One final word on the ridiculous story being promoted by the Tories on Jobcentre Plus today. The efforts of Jobcentre Plus and its staff are one of the biggest, if quietest, success stories of the recession. Of course there have been problems in ramping up numbers of staff and extra help for people looking for work.

But what would the Tories suggest instead? Not putting in the extra money and support despite the number of people on JSA doubling? Actually, come to think of it, that’s exactly what they suggest.

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