Priti Patel, the Employment Minister, was back on her high horse this week, citing new employment figures as proof “that this government is delivering for hardworking people”.
This almost laughable statement must have come as a surprise to the millions of working families on tax credits, who are still nervously waiting to find out exactly how much the Tories are planning to take from their already overstretched budgets in six months’ time.
But there were millions of others whose problems the Minister glibly dismissed in her statement. They didn’t show up in the headline employment figures, but their concerns should not be taken any less seriously because of that.
About the only figure she seemed to have paid any attention to was the one she thought made her look good – the fact that employment rose by 177,000 in the last quarter. Don’t get me wrong, that is obviously a good thing as far as it goes. But it certainly isn’t the whole story.
Ministers never seem to acknowledge this, but it’s an uncomfortable truth that a tenth of the workforce now consider themselves underemployed. Three million people now work fewer hours than they want to – a number which has shot up by almost a million under the Tories.
The fact that the new figures showed more people working fewer hours wasn’t the only indication that underemployment is an increasing problem. Of the 8.4 million people who work part-time, one out of every seven said that this wasn’t their choice but came down of a lack of alternative options. The proportion of part-time workers who consider their situation “involuntary” is now more than double what it was ten years ago.
Yes, I know, lots of numbers. But they reflect the reality behind the Tory rhetoric. The idea that there’s some sort of “jobs miracle” going on, as some Tories continue to insist, is plainly ridiculous.
It isn’t just that people who are working aren’t working enough hours to sustain themselves and their families. There also aren’t enough jobs for the people that need them – with the number of unemployed people more than double the number of vacancies in the economy, the Tories simply haven’t created enough jobs to go round.
But perhaps the most depressing news of all, as is so often the case under this Government, was what it all means for young people.
Again, the headline figure – a slight drop in the overall youth unemployment rate – offered an incomplete picture of the reality. Because even when you exclude students, 18-24 year olds are still more than three times as likely to be unemployed as those aged between 25 and 49. And this is despite the fact that all the evidence shows young people to be more likely than any other age group to take whatever work they can get. Just one example of this is the fact that, whilst many over-50s will not accept a zero hours contract, desperate youngsters are almost twice as likely to do so (47% compared to just 24%), with many younger jobseekers believing that they have no choice.
Despite this, the Tories have created a systematic culture of blaming the victim when it comes to youth unemployment. The DWP revealed this week that, since the controversial new sanctions regime was introduced in October 2012, a shocking 41% of all sanctions for people on Jobseeker’s Allowance have gone to people aged 18-24. The same age group, it’s worth remembering, accounts for just 20% of people currently on JSA, and so it cannot be argued that the sanction rate is anything but disproportionate.
It is exactly because of this kind of unfairness that Labour is calling for an independent review of the entire framework of sanctions – though the Tories continue to resist this.
Whether it’s in jobcentres or in Whitehall, young people are constantly coming up against a narrative that portrays them as lazy and feckless, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.
Nevertheless, the consequences are tragic. There are more than a million young people not in employment, education or training. An alarmingly high proportion – almost 60% – are not even in touch with any form of official support because they have stopped claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and, in many cases, dropped out of the labour market altogether.
This is more than just a waste of economic potential, although that is obviously a significant consequence. More importantly, it is a moral outrage.
We owe this generation so much more than vapid rhetoric about how they’ve never had it so good. They should demand more of their so-called leaders in this out of touch Tory Government.