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Yesterday’s jobs figures were foreseeable but still troubling

By Peter Hoskin
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Graph 1

After the splendour and sorrow of St Paul’s, the realities of everyday politics – starting with yesterday’s employment figures. They weren’t, in truth, all bad news – for instance, as my former colleague Jonathan Jones points out, there has been a rise in full-time employment – but the headline numbers are still far from heartening. From December to February, the unemployment level was 70,000 higher than in the previous quarter. The number of young people out of work increased by 20,000, and is pushing towards one million. Many of the most encouraging trends of last year have flipped, and flipped proper.

Not that this should come as a surprise. The figures released last month, covering November to January, were hint enough. And then, as I pointed out most recently in my rolling blog for the Budget, the Office for Budget Responsibility has long been forecasting a rise in unemployment this year. In fact, their latest numbers show no improvement in the unemployment level until around the next election:

Graph 2

And why? The OBR say that they put this year’s uptick in unemployment down to worsening growth. And then they wouldn’t expect the situation to improve until the economy returns to above-trend growth rates, which, by their forecasts, is in 2015.

But just because something is foreseeable doesn’t mean the Government should be relaxed about it. Unemployment numbers speak of individual misery and, as the OBR’s explanation suggests, underlying economic failure. And then there are the politics of the matter. Up until now, the Tory leadership has been quick to highlight the jobs data as a light amid the gloom – and I imagine that they will continue to do so. After all, even with the persistent unemployment, there are still over three-quarters of a million more people in work than there were at the election. But these points can no longer be put forward so stridently, nor without caveat.

Hence why the Prime Minister’s spokesman yesterday described “any increase in unemployment” as “worrying”. I expect we’ll see further Fallon-isation of the Government’s rhetoric in due course.


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