Leading article: An enduring unemployment crisis

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The rate of increase in unemployment has fallen again according to the latest official figures, undershooting analysts' expectations. Should this be cause for optimism? Is this a "green shoot"?

Total unemployment has not yet peaked, but this sign of stabilisation can be seen as another sign that monetary and fiscal intervention from the authorities has yanked the economy back from the brink. Yet we should not be under any illusions over how serious the situation remains, nor how difficult repairing the damage wrought by recession will be.

Young people leaving education and belly-flopping on to a stagnant jobs market are being particularly hard hit. Of the 2.47 million Britons looking for work, some 946,000 are aged 16 to 24. Many studies have shown how difficult a prolonged spell of unemployment in someone's early career can be to recover from. Damage is being inflicted now that will leave its mark for decades.

We also need to remember what these headline figures do not capture, namely the significant increase in part-time working, which usually means drastically reduced income. Most important of all, we must not lose sight of the fact that if unemployment stopped growing tomorrow, some 2.47 million people would still be in need of work.

The Government can do some good through programmes aimed at young people such as its Future Jobs Fund. It is true that such schemes mostly create subsidised internships rather than real jobs, but by raising self-esteem and keeping people in touch with the world of work they are certainly not a waste of public money.

The inescapable truth is that only robust and sustainable economic expansion can provide employment for those hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs – through no fault of their own – over the past two years.

And here, sadly, the Government has no magic wand it can wave. The task of ministers is essentially negative. They must not kick away the fiscal and monetary props which are sustaining our fragile economy until the private sector is ready to take up the slack in the labour market. Until that process of economic regeneration begins, this unemployment crisis – with all its attendant misery – is destined to endure.