Peter Hoskin

The worries behind falling unemployment

The worries behind falling unemployment
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Expect Labour to make much of today's employment figures, which show that unemployment fell by 7,000 in the three months to last November.  Already, Yvette Cooper has claimed it as a success for "government investment".  While Gordon Brown will surely repeat that message in PMQs.

But is it really testament to government action?  Or is it a result of a naturally improving economy (which, let's not forget, is taking longer in the UK than most other developed nations)?  Well, a study commissioned by the Spectator from Oxford Economics found that Brown's "investment" would "save" around 35,000 jobs in 2009 – but then destroy considerably more jobs from this year on.  Even though there’s been a Budget and a PBR between that study and now, it still gives the lie to Brown's frequent claim that the government has saved hundreds-of-thousands of jobs.    

Besides, as Theresa May pointed out in a well-pitched response to today's news, there are some worrying underlying trends.  For instance, the number of people working part-time rose by 99,000 to an all-time high of 7.71 million.  Are people taking part-time work out of desperation?  And what happens if they start looking for full-time work?  And that's before we think about the high levels of youth unemployment, among other problems.

Of course, falling unemployment is better than rising unemployment.  But – as with many of the economic indicators we're seeing at the moment – there's still plenty of cause for concern.