Is unemployment about to surge?

Despite experiencing the largest economic contraction in over 300 years, UK unemployment figures haven’t budged for months. The furlough scheme seems to have proved successful in shielding many jobs from getting the immediate axe, while those who were made redundant often didn’t appear in the official figures as they were not immediately looking for work. But today’s labour market overview from the ONS shows they have started to tick upward: unemployment is now at 4.1 per cent, 0.3 percentage points up from last year and 0.2 points up from the last quarter.  Breaking down the rate by age, it’s clear the young have suffered the most so far: unemployment for 16

Remote workers of the world, unite!

A few nights ago on Twitter, I quipped that I was planning to launch a trade union for remote workers. With dues of £10 a year, but membership of 200 million worldwide, I planned to become the Jimmy Hoffa of Zoom (my colleague Jamie McClellan, clearly a Microsoft fan, suggested we call ourselves the Teamsters). If our demands for swivel chairs were not met, we would threaten to homework-to-rule — sitting with our backs to brightly lit windows, perhaps, or running vacuum cleaners in mid-presentation. But in a way, a million or so Londoners are already doing something similar by refusing to travel to work. This is a white-collar strike

In the race to recovery, Britain is losing

At the start of lockdown, the government was obsessed with how other countries were dealing with the Covid crisis. In No. 10 press conferences, Britain’s daily death toll was shown next to numbers from the rest of the world, putting our handling of the virus into perspective. But when our death toll jumped, the government claimed the calculations were too different to compare and dropped the graph. A few weeks ago, the Office for National Statistics picked up where the government had left off, revealing that England had the highest number of excess deaths in Europe, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were in the top eight. The UK had

Letters: Will office workers ever want to return?

The future of offices Sir: I agree with much of Gerard Lyons’s article about the future of the capital (‘London in limbo’, 8 August), but there is more to consider. Before the virus, many organisations considered having staff working from home. However, there were always objections: people needed to be at meetings; the technology wasn’t good enough; questions over whether workers would work their contracted hours. With the onset of the virus, working from home was forced upon many, and has proved to work better than could ever have been expected. Will these workers ever want to come back to the office? Many will miss the social side of work,

Boomer and bust: Covid is fast-forwarding us into retirement

It was on a foggy walk to Hell’s Mouth that the sea fret lifted and I looked down, down, down at sea smashing against rocks and yes, it felt like a sign. I was on a socially distanced hols — if we define ‘socially distanced’ as ‘a bunch of mainly metropolitan friends romping in north Cornwall’ — for my summer of 2020 epiphany, which was this. Of the dozen or so happy, shiny, busy fiftysomethings bodyboarding, yakking and stuffing down Kettle Chips in their wetsuits, only one had what a retired major in Tunbridge Wells might call a job — and that was the books editor of the Oldie. As

Why would anyone want to work from home?

I’ve been having an office romance. Not with anyone in the office — but with the office itself. I’ve been going into the office every day during lockdown and I love everything about it: the bike ride from my Camden flat to work in Fitzrovia; the professional feeling that comes from being in a place dedicated to work; a chance to see more life than the limited activities that go on in your sitting room. I even like office furniture, the soft hum of the photocopier and the stationery box, with its neat cellophane packs of Post-it notes and extensive range of envelopes. But sadly, as an office-lover, I’m in

Finally, we’re unboxing the teleporter

This week’s Wiki Man may read a bit oddly. You see, I haven’t ‘written’ it at all; I’ve dictated it into a kind of dictaphone (an Olympus LS-P4, at £130, needlessly expensive for the purpose, but that’s how I roll) and then uploaded the audio file to an online transcription service called otter.ai. The reason I’m doing this is to find out how long it takes to write a Spectator article when you dictate it and get it transcribed online, compared with writing it on a keyboard like it’s 1940 or something. I’ll let you know the result at the end of this article. But I’m doing this because I

What if Oxford PPE graduates on TV were made to wear pink conical hats?

You can’t discuss racial inequality without using the N-word. And you can’t debate social justice without adding the C-word and the F-word as well. In this case the N-word is Nepotism, the C-word is Credentialism and the F-word is Favouritism. What is often overlooked in the debate about social justice is that inequality of opportunity need not arise from the exercise of negative preferences but from a mildly positive, unintended bias operating in reverse. Inequality of opportunity need not arise from the exercise of negative preferences Q. What is, at birth, the best predictor that you will become a doctor? A. Having a parent who is a doctor. Hence there

Letters: Churches have risen to the challenge of lockdown

Back to schools Sir: I share Lucy Kellaway’s enthusiasm for seeing school-life return and inequality gaps closed (‘A class apart’, 20 June). I was also glad that she debunked the myth that teachers have been on holiday during lockdown. It doesn’t feel like a holiday to me, as I sit contemplating a set of essays, the second set of predicted grades of the year and my annual Ucas references, not to mention daily work postings, live sessions on Microsoft Teams, Zoom staff meetings and a long list of emails. Where we depart is at Lucy’s call for a return to school at all costs, rather than the ‘blended learning’ approach

Will Covid kill off the office?

The most useless technology is the one you invent but fail to exploit. The Incas invented the wheel, but seem only to have used it on toys. Hero of Alexandria designed the first steam engine in the 1st century ad, but it was seen as a gimmick. The technological opportunity to escape from city-centre offices has been stuck in a similar limbo between invention and implementation. In the 1970s, Nasa engineer Jack Nilles envisaged ‘teleworking’ from local work centres. In 1984, the Times reported that tele-commuting was the ‘magical buzzword’ on the US microcomputing scene. In the 1990s, the UK had 200 ‘telecottages’: rural workspaces with computers, communications and social

Are Britain’s employment figures too good to be true?

Lining up graphs of the UK’s growth figures last week and its employment figures this week, you would struggle to believe the data was from the same decade, let alone the same month. Despite the economy contracting by a quarter in March and April, unemployment figures haven’t budged: 3.9 per cent ending the month of April, unmoved from the quarter before, and more remarkably only up 0.1 per cent from the previous year.  The employment rate remains surprisingly high too: 76.4 per cent, down 0.1 per cent on the previous quarter. Despite the shuttering of the economy, employment and unemployment continue to hover at record highs and lows, like they

Can America’s 2.5 million jobs miracle be replicated in Britain?

The US economy created 2.5 million jobs last month – the biggest monthly jobs gain since records began a century ago, albeit only a partial recovery from the 22 million jobs lost during lockdown. These figures have blown expectations out of the water. Economists were predicting yet more unemployment: the consensus was unemployment reaching 8.3 million, or 20 per cent in May, up from 14.7 per cent in April. Defying the odds, unemployment actually fell to 13 per cent, signalling an unexpectedly early start in the rebounding of the American economy. The biggest winners were workers in hospitality, who made up almost half of the new jobs, followed by construction. ‘This is

It’s hell when your whole neighbourhood is working from home

Every morning, like sun-seekers stampeding to get their towels on the sunbeds at a cheap Spanish hotel, it’s a race to the patio for my neighbours and me. Each of us in the line of terraced houses on the village green must try to be the first to get into their garden, because the first one out there reserves the air space. If it’s the neighbour who works in telecoms then we’re in for merger talks all day. Her firm is in the middle of a big deal, the negotiations for which she’s carrying out on her patio via laptop conference calling. Working from home. Oh dear. This is going

Did the behavioural scientists have a point?

For all the abuse heaped on the Behavioural Insights Team early in the crisis, let’s not forget that the only three immediate solutions proposed by the combined ranks of the scientific establishment were, um, behavioural. People were encouraged to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds, to stay home where possible and to keep two metres away from those outside their household. And we adopted this advice in our millions, long before any mandate had been issued. It would be wrong, when modelling the spread of this disease, to overlook the effect of voluntary preemptive action. My last visit to London was on 12 March, 11 days before we

Sunak’s coronavirus rescue package looks increasingly unsustainable

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Britain rose by over 856,000 to 2.1 million in April, the first full month of the lockdown. Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that the number claiming benefits due to unemployment has increased by nearly 70 per cent. This marks an unbelievable u-turn from the start of the year, when UK employment figures were hovering at record highs. These figures do not include ‘the furlough effect’: those who are still counted as employed, paid by the Government to stay home and wait for the green light to return to work. Today’s numbers, as bad as they are, don’t reflect the number of

Have you caught the remote-working bug?

One of the few benefits to emerge from this pandemic is that the world’s population has been given a crash course in complexity. If nothing else, many people may have learned why it makes sense to plot infection rates on a logarithmic scale, and a few may even have learned to use the word ‘exponentially’ in its true sense, rather than as a synonym for ‘a lot’. I hope this proves an enduring lesson. Because, in truth, very little in life can be understood properly without first understanding such concepts, since barely anything involving humanity changes in a linear way. Behaviour is contagious, and much of what we do results

How will Rishi Sunak roll back the furlough scheme?

Just weeks ago, Chancellor Rishi Sunak claimed that widespread use of the furloughing scheme was proof of its success. But it appears the government has over-achieved. The Treasury’s original prediction was that 10 per cent of businesses would use the salary safety net; the figure has turned out to be closer to 70 per cent. The cost for just one month of the scheme is estimated to be £8 billion, only £3 billion less than the NHS’s monthly budget. ‘We’re not talking about a cliff-edge but we have to get people back to work.’ says Matt Hancock, the health secretary. ‘We’ve got to wean off it.’ After telling ITV early

How ‘furlough’ became mainstream

In July, in its ‘Guess the definition’ slot, next to the day’s birthdays, the Daily Mail asked its readers to plump for the correct meaning of furlough. Was it a) a second swarm of bees in a season; b) a pole across a stream to stop cattle; c) a soldier’s leave of absence? I think the second swarm is called an after-swarm or piper. The government has published a whole document on water-gates to stop cattle. (You can get a £240 grant if the wood used is peeled and tanalised.) These are backwaters of life, but furloughing has become mainstream. Furlough was used before the present emergency. I remember in

The unforeseen costs of Covid-19

Assumptions made about the UK’s Covid-19 support packages are starting to unravel. When the Chancellor announced unprecedented spending to tackle the virus, he aimed to keep people in their jobs and mitigate an inevitable economic crash. But unemployment is soaring and the economy is contracting at a rapid pace, with growth figures set to plummet further than they did during the financial crash, and possibly even below that of the Great Depression. Despite the government’s measures, the economic effects are being acutely felt – and the Treasury’s coronavirus policies may have spurred on some unwanted activity of another sort. Today’s analysis from the Resolution Foundation and British Chambers of Commerce finds that the centrepiece

Coronomics: Ordinary remedies won’t be enough for a surreal crash

We have seen crashes before, recessions and depressions, but nothing like this. Our fear of coronavirus has hindered and halted every aspect of daily life. We look out of our windows and barely recognise the country we’re in: police film dog-walkers and pour black dye into lagoons to deter swimmers. We wait in queues for empty-shelved supermarkets. The stock market collapses, surges, then collapses again. None of the old rules make sense. Welcome to the world of Coronomics. If this were a normal recession, the remedy would be simple: encourage people to go out, spend money and boost the economy. But today’s public health concerns require the government to repress