PROPOSITIONS Useful work for job counters

Frank Field challenges a narrow approach to the labour market

Related Topics
A single unemployment measure such as the monthly count tells us as much about the economy as an old Brownie camera captures the brilliance of Linford Christie's record-breaking achievements. Just as Christie's efforts warrant a video film, so too does the economy stand in need of a measurement which records the dynamics of today's labour market - an employment audit.

Britain has two main sets of unemployment data: the monthly totals, based on a count of unemployed people registered for benefit; and the Department of Employment's quarterly Labour Force Survey. But how accurate or useful are they today?

When Britain was fully employed, the unemployment index played a dual role. It measured how effective governments were in maintaining full employment; and it gave a wider measure of social and economic well-being.

As full employment collapsed, politicians took a greater interest in the way unemployment was calculated. From the 1970s criticisms were made of the accuracy of thedata, particularly of how they overestimated the number of people anxious and willing to work. Too little attention was devoted to the social impact of rising unemployment.

Recent changes in the job market are undermining the belief that having a job automatically spells economic and social prosperity. But there is no point in examiningDepartment of Employment pub- lications to find out how far such changes have broken the link between employment and economic well-being: the department does not consider it part of its remit to report on the nature of jobs - just the number of them.

Yet if more people are moving into jobs paying such low wages that they qualify for Family Credit, there is a taxpayers' interest here. Similarly, if the new flexible labour market is providing jobs without pensions, the impact on the social security budget at some stage will be considerable.

An employment audit would challenge the narrow remit which the Government sets for itself in labour market objectives. Among the questions we need regular answers to, if we are to present a moving picture of what is happening in the real economy, are: how many people remain unemployed for very long periods of time? Do these people stay unemployed until they retire? What kind of work do claimants go into? Is the number of low-paid jobs increasing? How many low paid workers move up in the pay scales, or back into unemployment, and over what timescale? What is happening to the number of households whose heads earn less than their income support entitlement? What difference does training make? Is the employment full-time or part-time? What is the pay? Do workers earn enough to become members of the national insurance scheme? Does the firm provide access to a company pension scheme, a private scheme, or other fringe benefits?

The last question illustrates the importance of the answers to government and taxpayers alike. Workers not covered by national insurance may become dependent on means-tested benefits, paid for out of general taxation. Without a second pension, retiring workers are likely to make new demands on the welfare budget.

We need a regular employment audit to log all these labour market trends. Only in this way will it be possible to tell whether the Government's current optimism is justified, or if a more sombre scenario is developing.

My hope is that the Government will soon announce it is joining forces with the academic community to see how best to initiate and to regularly publish employment audits. Only then will we be able to put the monthly unemployment count into its proper perspective.

The writer is MP for Birkenhead and chair of the Commons social security select committee.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas