Editorial: A jobless recovery? It can’t be ruled out yet

Job creation in Britain is not keeping pace with the number of would-be workers

Share

The consensus, until now, has been that employment in Britain has held up remarkably well, given the length and depth of the recession.

Indeed, there has been much puzzlement as to why unemployment is not considerably worse than it is. In past recessions jobs have been among the first areas to suffer, but also among the first indicators that growth is returning. The paradox of relatively low unemployment through a downturn has complicated the Opposition’s task in trying to take issue with the Government.

A new study by a London think-tank, however, suggests that the relatively rosy picture is deceptive. The left-leaning Resolution Foundation looked not just at job numbers and the unemployment rate per se, but at the proportion of the available adult population in work. And it found a “gap” of more than 900,000 jobs between the actual number and the number that would be required to restore employment to its level in 2008. Its still more pessimistic finding is that the prospects for significant improvement in the short term are remote. In essence, it maintains, hopes of something like full employment returning very soon, or even before the 2020s, are unrealistic.

The Resolution Foundation is adding its voice to those who have argued that the jobs lost over the past five years or so may never return. The result, in a country with Britain’s level of population growth, is that the current level of unemployment may be as good as it gets. Job creation is not keeping pace with the number of would-be workers. The ageing  workforce only exacerbates the problem. Youth unemployment, it seems, will remain as intractable as it is today. 

There were, of course, already reasons to be sceptical about official employment figures, or at least about what lies behind them. It is known, for instance, that many more people are working part-time or reduced hours than  want to. The much-vaunted flexibility of the workforce may have saved jobs, but it is not always voluntary. Pay rises in very many sectors have fallen well below inflation, with many workers reluctantly  accepting that having a job is, on balance,  better than not having one.

The rapidly growing practice of so-called zero-hours contracts, which treat people as employed, even if they are essentially on permanent call for no pay, also complicates the picture. Governments in the past may have disguised rising unemployment by encouraging early retirement and applying generous definitions of invalidity, but zero-hours contracts are little more than a form of words that tips the advantage far too far towards the employer. If being employed is to mean anything, such contracts must at very least provide a basic retainer. 

Whatever the deficiencies of current measurements, however, the risk would appear to be that the present paradox – an economic downturn without an equivalent loss of jobs – could be matched by an economic upturn without the increase in jobs that would be expected to go with it. And if this is the future, ministers have some thinking to do beyond the standard calls for more apprenticeships, better training, and incentives to encourage more long-term unemployed people into work.

The Government is at the start of one of the most fundamental reforms of state benefits since the introduction of the welfare state. It is a reform that is predicated on the promise that everyone will be better off in a job than on benefits. Unless there are jobs for them, however, that promise will start to ring very hollow. This is why the jobs figures are no longer just about jobs; they will have a direct impact on the rest of the Government’s programme, too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor