Green shoots? Not on the day unemployment hits two million

Brown allies slap down Solicitor General for sounding upbeat on jobs

A minister was slapped down by Gordon Brown yesterday after predicting "green shoots" of economic recovery would soon be visible, on the day that unemployment crashed through the two million barrier.

Vera Baird, the Solicitor General, was told to "stick to her day job" as a government law officer by Brown allies after she was accused of complacency by opposition parties. The timing of her upbeat message was awful for the Government. The number of jobless rose by 165,000 to 2,030,000 in the three months to January, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It is the first time unemployment has topped two million since Labour came to power 1997. In February, the number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance rose by 138,400 to 1.39 million, the largest monthly rise since records began in 1971. Some 266,000 workers lost jobs in the last quarter.

Ms Baird, MP for Redcar, in the North-east, admitted unemployment was "awful", but told BBC Radio 4: "Happily, in my constituency there are some new jobs coming onstream. Of course these losses are appalling, they're part of the consequences of this recession, but it's imperative that people immediately go and take up the rights we've given them to get back into work as soon as possible." Asked about the timescale for recovery, she said: "One is reasonably confident that there will, before very long, be green shoots."

Mr Brown's official spokesman said: "I think the Prime Minister's view is that the Solicitor General is an excellent lawyer. She has a huge amount of expertise on legal matters and that is why she was appointed to her job as Solicitor General."

Ms Baird is the second minister to get into hot water by repeating the then Chancellor Norman Lamont's "green shoots" mistake in the last recession in 1991. Baroness (Shriti) Vadera said she could see "a few green shoots" on a day in January when almost 10,000 jobs were lost.

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, said Ms Baird's remarks "beggar belief", adding: "This is yet another reason why Labour cannot get us out of this crisis; they won't even face up to the reality of it."

Yesterday's figures suggest men are suffering disproportionately badly in the recession. The ONS said male unemployment had been rising more than twice as quickly as the rate of female joblessness, even though there are 10 per cent more men in the workforce. In the three months to January this year some 113,000 men were added to the unemployment total and only 52,000 women. Since this time last year, 269,000 men and 105,000 women have joined the dole queues.

Youth unemployment, at 621,000, or 14.6 per cent of those aged 18 to 24, is at its highest in 15 years. With those aged 16 to 18 and the "Neets" – youths not in employment, education of training schemes – the number is more than 1.5 million, according to the Prince's Trust. The rise in unemployment will have severe implications, not least for the fragile housing market and the public finances. The ONS also said a collapse in bonus payments in the City has pushed the growth of average earnings down again, confirming fears that the Treasury take from income tax on these payments will be depressed.

James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "These are bad figures. There is no gloss that anybody is going to try to put on them. We are dreadfully worried for the people who are behind these numbers."

Gordon Brown told the Commons it was a "matter of personal regret" for him that people were losing their jobs. "That is why we'll do everything we can to help people back to work," he said. He insisted unemployment was lower here than in many other countries.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, told the Prime Minister: "You've led us to this point without the hint of an apology and the British people will never forget it."

The public sector: Recession-proof?

As unemployment breached the two million mark, the statistics showed one area of the workforce has so far avoided the ravages of the recession: public sector workers. Employment in the private sector fell by 13,000 during the last quarter of 2008. But public sector employment increased by 15,000, taking the number of state-paid workers to 5,780,000.

John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "In the year to January, pay rises for public employees were rising at 4 per cent (including bonuses) compared with just 1.4 per cent for employees in the private sector and 1.8 per cent for the economy as a whole." The rocketing costs of tackling unemployment mean government cuts. The Ministry of Justice plans could include laying off prison, probation and court staff. Analysts say tens of thousands of council jobs will go this year: the Local Government Association has warned that job cuts among refuse collectors, teaching assistants and librarians would be needed to fund a 2.75 per cent pay increase for 1,400,000 workers.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor