Youth unemployment is getting worse. New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of 16- to 24-year-olds who are out of work has reached 974,000. Slightly more than one in five of this age group are now unemployed. Two-and-a-half years after the global banking crisis and more than a year after the official end of the recession, hundreds of thousands of young lives are still being blighted.
Nor are there any real signs of improvement in the general jobs markets. It is true that the numbers employed in the private sector rose in the three months to the end of January by 32,000 to 29.16 million. But many of those jobs are part-time positions. And the idea that the private sector will prove capable of creating more jobs than are going to be shed in the public sector over the coming months looks increasing like wishful thinking. These figures do not indicate an accelerating recovery but a long and slow grind. And the pain of that hard journey is being disproportionately borne by young people.
This is the bleak context of next week's Budget in which George Osborne is expected to unveil an array of policies to encourage growth around the UK. But he will also stick to his decision to eliminate the structural deficit over the course of a single Parliament. Microeconomic efforts to stimulate growth would be welcome, but they are likely to be cancelled out by the macroeconomic impact of such drastic cuts in government spending over such a short period.
The OECD published its economic survey of Britain yesterday and urged the Chancellor to stick to his fiscal course. Yet the OECD also downgraded its forecasts for growth in 2011 and 2012 to 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent respectively. The Office for Budget Responsibility has, by contrast, forecast growth of 2.1 per cent and 2.6 per cent in those years. The OBR's forecast implies relatively strong job creation. The OECD's, on the other hand, implies continued misery for hundreds of thousands of young and workless Britons. That alone is reason enough for Mr Osborne to change course.