The jobs figures: even if it’s a blip, it’s a worrying one

As the prime minister boasted about the coalition's jobs record, the reality was heading in the opposite direction


In the corridors of Westminster, you may hear a faint cackle, halfway between a laugh and a groan. Trace where it comes from and you’ll reach the door marked “Opposition Economics Team”.

Members of Labour’s front bench must be rueful when they look at today’s employment figures. They cover March to May, the quarter when the election took place and show that, as the prime minister boasted to voters about the strongest job creation record in the western world, so the reality was suddenly heading in the opposite direction.

Compared with the previous quarter, employment is down 67,000, the first fall for more than two years. The number unemployed has risen 15,000 (14,000 of that is an increase in the number of unemployed women) and the ‘adjusted’ Claimant Count – which takes account of the introduction of Universal Credit – for June is up 7,000 on the May figure.

If we look at different types of employment, compared with last month, the number of employees working full-time fell (7,000), the number of employees working part-time fell (21,000), the number of self-employed people working full-time fell (47,000) and even the number of temporary employees fell (by 9,000). Only the number of part-time self-employed people grew (17,000), which is hardly reassuring.

For the first time in over a year, the total number of hours worked in the economy has fallen for two months running:

Total hours worked (click to zoom)

Hours worked 1

And the ratio of the number of job vacancies to the number of unemployed people has risen for two months running, for the first time in over two years:

Vacancies and unemployment


It’s important not to get carried away about these changes, which are quite small. The ONS release includes a note warning that “in general, changes in the numbers (and especially the rates) reported in this statistical bulletin, between 3 month periods are small, and are not usually greater than the level that is explainable by sampling variability”.

For instance, employment fell 67,000 over the quarter, but sampling variability for quarterly changes in this measure is plus or minus 142,000. The employment rate went up 0.1 points, but the sampling variability for changes in this measure is plus or minus 0.2 points.

The combination of all these changes does suggest that something real is happening. But even if the figures are right it could be a real blip. Labour market statistics can be volatile these days:

Quarterly changes in employment levels

Volatile 1

Employment growth was briefly negative at the start of 2013, for instance, but it started to grow again a few months later.

There’s a certain symmetry to the employment and pay figures. For a couple of years we’ve been worried that the jobs recovery has happened at the same time as earnings have fallen in real terms. Today’s figures showed average weekly earnings being 3.2 per cent up on a year previously; in May, the Consumer Price Index stood at 0.1 per cent and the Retail Price Index at 1.0 per cent.

If we had a strong recovery we should expect to see employment and pay both improving. It seems we are stuck in a rut where the best we can manage is one or the other. The risk now is that renewed austerity may return us to the experience of 2010-12, when the UK nearly entered a double-dip recession, in which case it’s the positives in today’s figures that will seem like a blip.

Richard Exell is senior policy officer at the TUC. Follow him on Twitter

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13 Responses to “The jobs figures: even if it’s a blip, it’s a worrying one”

  1. stevep

    Funny that, no one on the right mentions the two recessions and the loss of our triple-A credit rating, all on the Tory-led watch. When Labour left power in 2010, the economy was growing. What happened?
    Five years of hard-right dogma killed our economy, that`s what happened. All for party political gain.
    Tory claims to have generated a barely-spluttering economic upturn are disingenuous, because previously dropping the economy into recession means they have a low point to start their wild claims from. It`s hokum.
    It`s telling that we refer to the labour “Market”, as if the value of human beings rests on being bought or sold like cattle.
    Rather than the current society which sees human beings as a conduit to greater profit for the few, we could contribute our labour in a more dignified and telling way to a society that respected human endeavour and contributions to the whole.

  2. Torybushhug

    Have you ever had an original thought, this is standard cookie cutter populist bile.
    1) Labour went on a vast unsustainable spending spree in it’s final months. Of course this gives a temporary illusory ‘growth’. The most feeble minded simplistic political approach, any fool would think of this knee jerk reaction.
    2) From 2010 Europe hit the brakes and went into serious decline. Of course they stopped buying from us and so of course this affected us, dohhh! Many feel it a miracle we were not sucked down with them and went onto to experience the European unemployment levels
    3) This ‘killed economy’ attracted more EU migrants than any other, now I wonder how this could be given your suggestion it’s so bad here, mmmm, stretttchhhh that brain
    4) So only a few profit do they? Lefty myth number 4 rears it’s head. If so we would not be in the midst of long term retail and car sales boom. Our credit is less than 1/3rd of total assets to include main residence (of course we have higher debt than Germans because we use property as an investment – yes our main home and then one day downsize, whereas Germans are more conformist so use pensions).
    If only a few profited, the world migrants would be headed to and staying in France et al, there would be no point coming to this life of penury in the UK
    You must live a very sheltered life. I only today dealt with an Albanian here just a few years, started with nothing now owns two houses and has opened a fried chicken shop taking £17k – £18k per week. Him and many like him tell me this is the land where anyone can make their dream a reality.
    I am dealing with a Nigerian chap that drives an Audi A4 convertible and a RangeRover Sport, he’s only been here 5 years and owns a home and is getting a buy to let. His Mrs is a cleaner but sitting law exams. They are typical of many I meet, not highly qualified, but just through a little hard work are making good lives.
    Come visit me, I will show you the real world.

  3. Jacko

    “It`s telling that we refer to the labour ‘Market’, as if the value of human beings rests on being bought or sold like cattle.”

    Just to clarify. We call it the ‘labour market’ because it refers to the demand and supply dynamics of human labour, not the supply of the humans themselves. Secondly, the labour is hired only, it is not owned.

  4. stevep

    Call it what you like, pedant, but if a person is not born into wealth or land, they have no other choice other than to hire themselves out as labour to those who have, in order to survive. They are therefore, to all intents and purpose, owned by the landed and wealthy. Forced labour, Indentured slavery or wage slavery, Take your pick.

  5. stevep

    Here`s a thought, not very original, I grant you: ” The world is what you make it”. There, how`s that! Not bad going, eh.
    The world I want to create is one of fairness, decency and respect for all human beings and nature. A world in which we don`t have to backstab, arselick and destroy the planet to make a living. A world where dignity is a byword.
    You won`t find such a world on the right of the political spectrum, only greed, slavery and power. That`s why, in the absence of anything better in politics, I gravitate to the left, where there is at least a little discussion and consensus on my ideals.
    The “real” world, as you put it,– it`s what you make it.

  6. Jacko

    Tell me, how far has that belief taken you in your life?

  7. Geoff S

    1.The conservatives went on a similar spending spree in 1992-1993 to bankroll Major’s election victory.
    2. Unencumbered by the Euro and relatively free of lending to the Greek economy, and with an economy heavily focussed on the service sector, and being a net importer of goods rather than an exporter, the UK had less exposure to recessions in EU countries than many others.
    3. The UK has chosen to generate growth from low paid employment that is attractive to migrant workers who are often unattached and can live comparatively cheaply.
    4. The classic Tory ‘myth’ is to say ‘Only a few profit? Let me tell you, I know a chap…’ The social mobility figures suggest that Britain has one of the lowest social mobility figures in Europe.
    I also know several migrant workers who are cleaners.

  8. Harold

    This comes as a surprise?

  9. stevep

    It`s not a belief. it`s a fact.

  10. Jacko

    But it’s a such a disempowering mindset to carry with you. You’d be a negative, discouraging influence on young people.

  11. dnspncr

    Seriously, what do you know about the real world? I love my country but that doesn’t make me blind to the negative effects that a culture of greed has had on our nation. Britain is the only country in the world that has sold more than half its companies to foreigners. Privatisation has fleeced taxpayers out of billions, from the nuclear industry to security firms. Millions of pounds in subsidy are paid to train companies (much of which goes to shareholders); Britain’s energy and utility networks have been flogged off to companies owned by European governments (foreign exchequers reap the dividends while we all struggle with increasing bills); 89% of publicly-funded home care for the elderly is provided by private companies chasing profit. Neoliberal ideology has had a devastating effect on health funding… In 1990, rather than address the problems of institutional care for the mentally ill, the government closed down asylums and passed responsibility for the mentally ill over to cash-strapped local authorities and the profit making independent sector; The ILF has been scrapped passing care for the severely disabled (again) over to cash-strapped local authorities, forcing people to wear nappies and making them go to bed in the early evening to cut down carer time; We now hear that the financial assistance given to cancer suffers will be slashed.

    In your world we should be raging about the 3% of welfare spending that goes to the unemployed. I loath anyone who seeks to exploit a system set up to provide financial assistance for people seeking work – long term claimants should be scrutinised and the 0.7% of fraudulent claims dealt with harshly. The government has no desire to fix the system though, they wish to destroy it by bringing in sanctions which treat every claim as fraudulent and using language that throws suspicion on all claimants – IDS is an expert at that; Look at these scroungers everybody, forget about the banks being the cause of mass unemployment within retail and manufacturing, don’t worry about them using billions of pounds of your money to keep their own jobs… oh, and never mind the 25bn worth of tax avoided by the wealthiest each year.

    You don’t have to be a “lefty” to want a fairer society. It’s great that everyone owns a big TV and a mobile phone these days but let’s also get everyone a secure jobs (not force them into bogus self-employment and zero-hour contracts) and pay them a living wage (an actual living wage) and give them access to decent, affordable homes (5m people on social housing lists and we’ve got property developers conning councils out of affordable housing with complicated viability reports ffs)… What would spending a day with you be like anyway? If your comments are anything to go by you’ll just be moaning about immigrants all the time (which is strange, I would’ve thought you would be glad that the world is turning into one big cattle market of cheap labour). As for your African mate, I’m glad he’s doing well, I’m sure luck and support from others had fuck all to do with his success.

  12. stevep

    No, we need to understand our history to empower our future. You give young people less credit than they deserve. Given balanced information, they`re intelligent enough to make their own minds up.
    Being force-fed with constant right-wing views is another matter.

  13. Patrick Nelson

    But ours is a system increasingly moving towards people being bought and sold. Get rid of the welfare state, the NHS and the other things that protect the poor and the workhouse and eventually bonded-labour are liable to follow.

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