The coalition government is desperate to prove it is making progress on reducing unemployment, but the recent figures hide the reality of working life in Britain today, writes Simon Hardy.
The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics indicate a 6.4% fall in the last three months (132,000 people), meaning that 2.08 million remain unemployed.
But there is concern that the figures are going down because a lot of people are being forced onto workfare (“mandatory work activity”) schemes, temporary self employment and zero-hours contract, part time work – which means they are off the books but still living in poverty with a very precarious income.
Another factor is that there has been a huge rise in the number of sanctions, with the Department for Work and Pensions current having around 170,000 people on benefit sanctions, meaning they are being penalised for contravening any number of the ridiculous hoops that they make the unemployed jump through.
People on sanctions are not counted as unemployed by the DWP – which would mean that the latest figures would not indicate a fall in the real number unemployed.
The ONS report also indicated that wage increases had dropped, down 0.2% to only 0.6% (minus bonuses). This is the first time that the wage rate has gone down since 2009. With inflation at 1.9% and Retail Prices Index inflation at 2.6% – both increasing since May 2014 – we are faced with a serious decline in spending power.
The wages are an average indicator, so it means that a lot of people are becoming “employed” but on very low wages.
But wages for working people in the UK have declined in real terms for years now, in fact this is the longest phase of declining wages we have seen since the 1880s.
At the same time the number of billionaires in Britain has reached more than 100 for the first time. They have a combined wealth of around £301 billion.
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