The number of people being forced to take precarious part-time work has shot up to new records as the economic slump deepens.
A total of 1.31 million people who want to work full-time are only in part-time positions. Many are designated as self-employed, which often means they are simply unable to find an employer to take them on and are forced to take whatever odd jobs they can.
The grim figure emerged in data from the Office for National Statistics yesterday that painted an awful picture of the jobs market after nearly two years of austerity and economic stagnation. Unemployment leaped by 118,000 over the last quarter to 2.68 million – a 17-year high.
Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary said: "It's very concerning that the only area of the labour market that is growing at the moment is the number of involuntarily temporary jobs. These jobs are generally insecure, poorly paid and offer little or no career prospects. They may act as a short-term sticking plaster against unemployment but they are not the kind of jobs that can underpin our economic recovery."
Young and older people are bearing the brunt of the crisis, with the number of unemployed young people hitting new records in what the Government yesterday said were "exceptionally difficult economic circumstances".
A total of 1.04 million 16-24-year-olds and 404,000 50-64-year-olds were unemployed, with the older group's numbers swelling by nearly 12 per cent, or 42,000, compared with the previous quarter. The number of people taking early retirement also fell significantly, perhaps indicating people's nervousness about whether they can afford to retire or be able to find alternative work if they did.
The figures reinforced predictions earlier this week from the respected Ernst & Young Item Club of economic forecasters that unemployment will approach 3 million by next spring.
Nida Ali, Item's economic adviser, said: "Economic growth has been very weak for the most part of the last 12 months and is simply not sufficient to prevent unemployment from rising. Overall, the outlook for the labour market is pretty dismal."
However, there was one glimmer of hope. In the three months to November the numbers in work had actually increased by 18,000, indicating some stability returning to the jobs market. But Ms Ali said that figure "looks suspicious" when put alongside the surge in the number of self-employed.
Business leaders, many of whom support the government cuts, said the figures showed the need for government to change the education system so young people were better prepared for jobs.
Neil Bentley, the CBI deputy director general, said: "The only way to resolve unemployment in the short term is to pull out all the stops to get the economy moving and businesses growing.
"But over the longer term, the Government must look at how our schools prepare people for working life through better careers advice, guidance and skills that employers need."
Wages rose at an average rate of just 1.9 per cent in the quarter, well below the 5.2 per cent rate of inflation at which it peaked, meaning living standards are being squeezed hard even for those in work.
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