Fraser Nelson

British jobs for whom? | 28 August 2011

British jobs for whom? | 28 August 2011
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“More than 400,000 people have been out of work for more than two years, according to analysis of the latest Government data by think tank IPPR.” So runs its press release today, trailed in the Sunday press and the wires. I hope the IPPR didn’t spend too much of their donors’ money on this research, as the figure is updated quarterly and freely available from the DWP website (click here). Add up only three categories: lone parents, jobseekers allowance and incapacity benefit the figure stands at 2.4 million, certainly “more than 400,000”. Worse, at the peak of the boom (Feb07), this figure was even higher at 2.5 million.

And yes, it’s a real problem. As the IPPR goes on to say, unemployment is self-reinforcing. The longer you’re out of a job, the harder it becomes to find one. Its press release further reveals that when you’re out of work for two years, it’s more likely than not that you’ll never work again. This is fascinating – and was when the excellent Jim Murphy uncovered this when he was a DWP minister five years ago. He has repeated it in speeches ever since. Good to see the IPPR reaching the same conclusion, although it may have been cheaper to send an FOI request for the Murphy’s original research. The IPPR rather predictably ends up calling for various expensive government interventions: a compulsory job offer, at minimum wage or above, for anyone who has been on Jobseekers Allowance for 12 months or more, etc. This adds to its earlier, just-as-predictable calls for slower deficit reduction (and, ergo, more debt).

All this is frustrating because the IPPR hires some very smart people, who could be far better deployed. As Osborne told the Commons a couple of weeks ago, Britain has seen the "second highest rate of net job creation in the G7" in the last 12 months. We have a whole bunch of problems, but job creation is not foremost among them. More worrying is that, as Coffee House reported recently, all the rise in employment can be accounted for by a rise in foreign-born workers. This throws up several questions which the IPPR could address.

For example: why, with so many on the dole, is almost all of the increase in working-age employment under Cameron accounted for by foreign nationals (a far narrower definition than foreign-born)? Is Britain’s problem too few jobs, or too few workers keen enough to take the jobs? Has mass immigration severed the link between employment growth and unemployment – and, if so, what can be done to restore that link?

I find it hard to believe that the left isn’t interested in these questions. The right certainly doesn't have all the answers either. But the first step to solving a problem is recognising the problem: namely, that Britain's employment recovery isn't shortening Britain's dole queues. I'd love to hear the IPPR suggest why this might be. It can do far better than rehashing DWP statistics and calling for more borrow-and-spend.