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


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: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent