Lies, damn lies, and unemployment figures

Last week there were reports by the BBC that unemployment rates in the UK had hit a record low. Back when I arrived in the UK in September 2017 there were newspaper reports that unemployment in London was at it lowest since the 1970s.

At a time when the government in Westminster lurch from crisis to crisis during brexit negotiations, and while the 2017 election wounds are still fresh, these statistics are welcomed news for the Conservative Government. Unfortunately for them, few are terribly excited, nor convinced by the statistics.

Anyone who works even an hour a week is deemed to be employed in these statistics. This means if you pick up a couple of one off cleaning jobs, do a few hours driving for uber, have a zero hours contract with McDonalds or are employed for only a few hours on minimum wage at the local supermarket you count as employed. How many people are currently seeking to increase their work hours and are still aspiring to receive an income to cover basic costs like food, rent, power etc? In reality while the number of people with no work may have fallen, many remain under employed and are still not earning enough to live each week.

I remember a similar issue in New Zealand just over a decade ago. At that time Labour was in power and boasted that unemployment was at a 20 year low. Again, the statistics didn’t count underemployment and the effects of casualisation of the work force.

The reality is with unemployment, government and business have three options:

Option 1: Do nothing and accept the consequences of high unemployment.

Option 2: Public investment in infrastructure that generates jobs and economic growth. This was the strategy adopted in the USA during the 1930s depression, where President Roosevelt’s New Deal kicked started that country’s economy.

Option 3: Fudge the statistics.

Politically, option 3 often proves to be the easiest.

The International Labour Organisation have a decent work agenda. This agenda calls not just for full employment, but for meaningful work, where people earn enough to live and where jobs are environmentally sustainable. By this measure, most countries have a long way to go. But it can be done. Public investment in projects such as renewable energy would help reduce the planets carbon emissions, create jobs and improve our society.

In the challenges that humanity faces in the coming years, doing nothing and fudging statistics isn’t going to cut it. We need to implement the ILO decent work agenda on a global scale. This will improve peoples lives, and create an economy that doesn’t pollute and destroy the environment. For all governments, this needs to be top of the agenda in 2018.



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