Hiding the UK’s real unemployment level

From December to February 2015 there were 29.9 million people of working age (16-64) employed in the UK, and 1.8 million unemployed. 1.8 million people unemployed is pretty bad, but the the true level of unemployment is much worse.

If you work just one hour a week, the Government classes you as employed. People on benefits are considered employed when they are put on Workfare, and have to work for companies like Tesco and Poundland for free. If you are on any Government training scheme you are considered employed.

But there are bigger hole in the economy than that. 8.9 million people of employment age, 16-64 are classed as ‘economically inactive‘. This is made up of people like:
  Looking After Family/Home
  Temporary Sick
  Long-Term Sick
Some of this is fairly reasonable. Students and people looking after family and home are not necessarily in the job market, (though students haven’t been helped by the Liberal Democrats failure to keep their promise not to put up tuition fees). The sick used to be listed among unemployed, but were removed from unemployment figures under Margaret Thatcher. ‘Discouraged’ and ‘other’ include include a lot of people who are long term unemployed and have simply given up looking for non existent jobs. This is unemployment at its worst, but they are excluded from official unemployment figures. It will also include long term disabled who have been declared ‘fit of work’ by ATOS or Maximus and take off ESA, but are simply not well enough to work or go on Job Seekers Allowance and face the draconian Sanctions system applying for jobs they couldn’t do anyway.

Of the 8.9 million people classed as ‘economically inactive’, a quarter, 2.2 million, want to work. These aren’t included in unemployment figures. If they were included the unemployment figure would rise to 4.1 million.

Another huge hole is underemployment, people who are working but haven’t enough work. This is the category you find people in zero hours contracts, but it includes other part-time work, and and those in full-time workers who aren’t making enough and want extra hours. A Freedom of Information request to the ONS shows that 3,631,994 want more hours. Scroll down to: “003836 18 February 2015 | Under and Over Employment October-December 2014 (632.5 Kb Excel sheet)” click the link to download the excel document. Although 3,6 million want more hours, the official ONS figure for underemployment is lower, 2.9 million. They don’t, for example, include people unless they can start the extra work within two weeks. The 3.6 million underemployed who need more work are closely matched by 3 million who would like to work fewer hours and are willing to get paid less. It looks like there is scope for some radical job sharing solutions. In the mean time we are left with 3.6 million who are employed but don’t have enough work. *

Between officially unemployed, the unemployed who aren’t counted, and the underemployed, we have a total of 7.7 million people who don’t have enough work, or don’t have any work at all.

Since Thatcher started massaging unemployment figures in the 80’s, successive governments, Labour, Conservative and Coalition have followed that lead keeping their own unemployment record down. What is new is blaming the unemployed, calling them ‘scroungers’ for not finding jobs where there are none. Worst of all are the Coalition’s cruel sanctions to make people search for jobs that don’t exist.

Children are going hungry and at least 60 people have died after having the benefits stopped. The Conservatives claim this about compassion because having work is so important for peoples’ well being. But how can cruel and unjust sanctions lead to one more person in work, one more added to the employed figure? If everybody unemployed tried really, really hard to find a job, would the unemployment numbers, official and hidden, all disappear?

*Note: in a earlier version of this blog I miscalculated the number of underemployed as 5.4 million rather than 3.6 million.


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