Women in low-paid jobs tilt workforce

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The Independent Online
UNEMPLOYMENT continued its unexpectedly rapid fall last month, dropping by 36,100 to a 15-month low of 2,815,900. Yesterday's figures mask far-reaching changes in the make-up of working Britain.

Eight out of every nine jobs created since the end of the recession have gone to women. Many are low-paid part-time jobs in hotels, shops and other services. Economists fear these will be most at risk as the tax increases in this year's Budgets squeeze consumer spending.

Employment among men has barely begun to recover after a four-year decline, although male unemployment has been falling for months as redundancies become rarer. Manufacturers are still dismissing workers, but nowhere near as fast as late last year. The working week in manufacturing is now shorter than at any time for a decade.

John Philpott, of the Employment Policy Institute, believes the days of rapidly growing factory employment have gone for good. Manufacturers will have to protect competitiveness by boosting productivity continually - making more goods with fewer people.

Unemployment has fallen by 176,400 since it peaked in January at about 3 million. Taking account of seasonal effects, one in ten of the labour force is now without work and claiming benefit. The unemployment rate fell most sharply last month in the South-west and the East Midlands, while the rate in the South-east dropped below 10 per cent for the first time in 13 months. The Employment Department said the underlying fall in the jobless total had quickened to between 15,000 and 20,000 a month.

Some 342,700 people joined the dole queue in November, down 11,200 on the previous month and the lowest figure since February. But the number leaving the unemployment count fell even more. Earnings remain subdued, rising at an underlying 3 per cent in the year to October as controls on public sector pay tightened further.

The balance between men and women in the workforce has undergone a profound change over the past 20 years, which economic recovery is now reinforcing. Many more women are working while many more men are unemployed or have withdrawn from the labour force. Men without skills have suffered most as manufacturers use better technology to save labour. Self-employment has picked up sharply as dismissed workers use redundancy payments to set up on their own.

Many men remain reluctant to take the relatively low-paid, part-time jobs which women have accepted. They are wedded to the idea that men should stick to well-paid full-time jobs which allow them to support their families alone. The Prime Minister yesterday concentrated on the fall in headline unemployment, describing the figures as 'a Christmas message that will bring a smile to people's faces next year'.

John Smith, the Labour leader, clashed with him in the Commons over the Chancellor's admission that the Budget tax increases amounted to a 7p increase in the basic rate of income tax: both Government and Opposition are waiting anxiously to see whether the 'feel-good' factor delivered by strengthening recovery can withstand the blow of higher taxes as public finances are slowly brought under control.

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