Employment patterns have changed drastically over the course of the crisis, with very real consequences, so it was a relief to many when the Office for National Statistics announced last week that employment is improving, wages are rising and business owners are thinking of hiring rather than cutting.
But is it really anything to get excited about? Some economists think not. Though the latest figures for the quarter show that unemployment is down, the economy is still contending with sustained structural labour issues – which simply aren’t going to be significantly improved in three months. The figure for the long-term unemployed is not budging, whilst the short-term gains have been made largely in part-time employment, self-employment and positions related directly to the Olympic Games.
Optimism is cautious, to say the least. Of the 236,000 extra jobs in the last quarter, only 100,000 are full-time. 136,000 part-time or self-employed jobs is better than no jobs at all, but there’s still a demand that’s not being met by the market. In addition, figures stating that the number of unemployed (those registering as claimants of JSA) has fallen, may not be as accurate as hoped. Large chunks of certain demographics aren’t registering as unemployed, instead banking on riding out the rough by moving back in with their parents, or crossing their fingers and living off savings for a while.
The group is even earning its own moniker – ‘NEET’, or Not in Education Employment or Training. An acronym is never a good sign, although statistics show that the UK’s NEET figures are by no means the most worrying in the EU. Some economists even believe that the worst isn’t over yet, and more are about to swell the ranks of the unemployed, as cuts to the public sector continue.
But jobs aren’t the only measure of economic well-being; in fact, it’s purchasing power that’s probably the best rule of thumb – what you can do with the money you earn. Though the ONS announced that wages are rising, they’re still trapped 0.5% below the rate of inflation – no good for anyone. Right now, the purchasing power of the average UK spender is still falling, due in part to this squeeze on wages, but also because of price increases across commodities, retail and fuel, as well as pay freezes, increased pension contributions and cuts to benefits like child tax credits. Many citizens feel out-of-pocket in real terms.
So what’s the good news? Well, the number of self-employed people is rising. This offers the hope that in time they might grow their businesses too, adding to the number of those in gainful employment. Then there’s the fact that though the public sector is still being cut, the rate at which that’s happening has slowed considerably. The private sector is actively hiring and regular pay is only 0.2% below the Consumer Price Index – a much better situation than a year ago, when the gap was over 3%. Households might still feel the pinch, but it won’t be quite as vice-like.
It can be a pretty daunting situation. If you’re worried about your current role, or you’ve been fired, or made redundant, it’s sometimes hard to get the perspective you need to start making the changes that mean you’ll keep bringing home the bacon. For students, it can be scary too – it seems like there are plenty of jobs, but many require experience that recent graduates simply haven’t had the time to piece together. For some, part-time work is the new reality, as household income falls and need increases.
Approaching these difficulties can seem like a huge challenge. It’s probably best to get some advice before you start tackling the job sites. If you have any questions about how to handle your current situation, or begin the process of getting back into work, the National Careers Service can help. Free, impartial advice is invaluable, and the National Careers Service offers just that. Their trained advisers offer ongoing support, so whatever your query, whatever your problem, you won’t get turned away.