Thursday, 18 May 2017

A modest comment on the unemployment figures

A modest comment on the unemployment figures Here is the BBC News website’s summary of the unemployment figures published yesterday, 17 May 2017.
  • The UK unemployment rate has fallen to 4·6%, its lowest in 42 years,
  • The jobless rate has not been lower since the June to August period of 1975.
  • The employment rate, the proportion of 16 to 64 year olds in work, was 74·8%, the highest since records began in 1971.

You can take that as the official version of the figures, published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which is the equivalent in today’s money of the Ministry of Truth. Disputing their opinions, particularly it seems in the Houses of Parliament, sets off a hurricane of rage from those who have put their faith in them.

There are many expressions of stunned disbelief in the English language, but like the great George Orwell, writing in his newspaper column ‘As I Please’, on 19 January 1945, I sense that, reading these incredible statements, you find the phrase ‘and then you wake up’ coming immediately to hand. It is common experience that unemployment is completely out of control. Unemployment has in reality reached a level so high that no politician of any political stamp asks to be put in charge of it. Worse, so far, no politician in the last few years has even suggested that anything can, or ought to be, done about it. On the contrary, several recently adopted government policies, for example that on the State pension, require old people to remain employed until an age well into three figures*, and assume, despite train-loads of evidence to the contrary, that there will be well paid work for all who want it.

Not for the first time I sense that the government has been deceived by its own propaganda. This time, though, the Opposition is guilty of pretending to accept ONS statistics on unemployment, for fear of finding itself responsible for a desperately serious problem for which it has neither diagnosis nor remedy.

It is exceedingly difficult to find a job, as my own experience and that of, probably, millions of others has shown. Unemployment is certainly well into the millions. How many millions exactly, nobody knows.

Further evidence may be found by searching on line for ‘How they fiddle the unemployment figures,’ or any synonymous phrase. You will see dozens of hits, each representing a different list of old Spanish customs whereby the ONS reduces the unemployment figures without actually employing anybody.

The only plausible alternative explanation of the disparity between the ONS figures and reality is that the ONS, far from counting the unemployed people and falsifying the results, simply makes up the figures as it goes along.

I doubt whether anyone in government, or anywhere else for that matter, knows who qualifies as unemployed and who doesn’t, let alone the vital information: who is unemployed, where they live, what skills they have, what they might be trained to do, or anything else about them.

What that means, I think, is that nobody in government actually cares about those people, including me, who face the daily misery of having no work to do and precious little money. That is especially poignant in the light of evidence such as a study called Modelling suicide and unemployment (The Guardian, 11/02/15) that, among men at least, unemployment is a common precursor of suicide. To the people who are undergoing it, unemployment is sometimes a burden which they take the most desperate of measures to throw off.

In the absence of any serious proposals from any political party to deal with unemployment, here are my modest proposals to ameliorate it.

  1. Unemployment remains sky high, so stop lying about it. I haven’t spoken to a single person who believes the ONS figures.

    Count unemployed people in exactly the same way as they were counted in the days when an interviewer asked the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, whether he would resign if unemployment were to reach a quarter of a million.

  2. Stop trying to force unemployed people to find work.

    Most unemployed people would probably accept a decent job if they were offered one. Any who prefer to remain on benefits, which means living on a budget so small that many unemployed people cannot afford electricity and food, are at least leaving a job empty so that someone who wants it can have it.

  3. Raise the benefits that unemployed people receive.

    By a stroke of irony, paying unemployed people more money would reduce unemployment. Increasing the amount of money that people actually spend is a pre-requisite for an increase in the amount of goods sold, which is in turn probably a better way of reducing unemployment than not counting people with hats.

  4. Finally, stop buying cheap goods from China. It's one thing to buy some cheap rubbish from China, or anywhere else, when you want some cheap rubbish. If you want a dress that costs ten times what the shop gave for it, doesn't fit and then falls to bits, China is probably the right supplier for you.

    It’s another thing altogether to buy things from a country which appears to have been subsidising the manufacture of various goods and then dumping them in British shops at less than what it costs the Chinese to produce.

★That is an exaggeration, but not a particularly big one.

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