Unemployment - the truth behind the figures

Published by Ruth Jackson on 07 November 2012.
Last updated on 26 November 2012

September saw the government release some good economic news. The number of unemployed people fell by 7,000 to 2.59 million in the three months to July.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which compiles the Labour Market report, also revealed the number of those in work increased by 236,000 to 29.6 million – the biggest rise for the past two years.

Making it a trio of good news, it was also reported that the number claiming Jobseeker's Allowance had fallen by 15,000 between July and August to reach 1.57 million.

So, has the economy started to recover? Is a jobs boom beginning? Unfortunately not.

The worrying truth

The headline figures hide far more troubling employment statistics. The number of people who have been unemployed for more than a year is now 904,000 - the highest it has been for 16 years. Clearly, we have a problem getting people back into work.

So, why do the ONS figures appear to show 236,000 people finding work in just three months? The answer to this lies in what the ONS considers work.


Anyone who gets a job is counted, even if the job is only part-time or a job share. For example, over the three months to July, the number of people forced to take part-time work because they couldn't find a full-time job rose by 134,000 to hit 8.12 million – the highest figure on record.

It even includes temporary jobs, which has played a big factor in this quarter's optimistic figures. One the reason that 236,000 people found jobs during the three months to July was the Olympics, which employed 91,000 during its run.

So we can expect to see a fall back in the number of people employed in the next statistical release as these people were returning to the job centre while the final strains of the closing ceremony could still be heard.

Tough going for over 50s

And there is plenty more misery hidden among the figures.

The older generation is finding it particularly hard to find work. Nearly half (49.6%) of all unemployed men in the country who have been out of work for more than a year are over the age of 50, up from 44.8% in the same period last year. And 40.9% of women over 50 have been out of work for more than a year, well above the 35% average for the rest of us.

"Older people in the UK who find themselves out of work are increasingly being frozen out of the labour market with limited hope of finding a job," says Michelle Mitchell, charity director general at Age UK.

"With few options for work, combined with a rising state pension age and little opportunity to plan and save properly for their retirement, many are likely to find themselves facing poverty in later life through no fault of their own."

It's not just the over-50s who are finding jobs hard to come by. Youth unemployment has risen by 7,000 in the last quarter alone, taking the total number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are out of work to 1.02 million. And that figure isn't going to improve any time soon.

"Young people are going to have little or no experience of work and with so many people of all ages struggling to find a job, those with not much of a CV behind them are going to find it harder than most," says TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

So if you are aged between 25 and 50, and holding down a full-time job, breathe a sigh of relief - you are one of the lucky ones.



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