The Office for National Statistics recently released figures purporting to show that the UK economy continues to recover with the help of the government's vigorous attempts to get people back into work.
At first glance the figures for the last quarter show another amazing achievement for the coalition in the battle to regain control of the economy, with the unemployment rate having been reduced by 146,000 to 2.02 million. Indeed, in the year to the end of July, unemployment had fallen by nearly 500,000. Added to this triumph is the news that in August claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance fell below one million for the first time in six years.
Hurray! Everybody crack open a bottle of champagne and then go and celebrate the night away with the university freshers: Britain is saved. As a reward, take a holiday, Mr Cameron – oh, you already have.
However, these stats do not show how the government's strategies are affecting people in real life. Despite more jobs being created, the job market is actually a complete shambles.
I've just finished my stint in Gove's gloriously reformed education system, leaving school with 14 GCSEs and 4 A-Levels. Having decided not to go to university (whether that was a wise decision or not will soon become apparent, I'm sure), I've been faced with the task of finding a full-time job that will keep me satisfied and allow the Treasury to confiscate all of my hard-earned money as tax.
However, the mission has proved impossible. The phrase trying to get blood out of a stone really doesn't do the situation justice. It is in fact like trying to get an elephant with dynamite up its trunk out of a mouse hole.
There are plenty of jobs out there, no doubt about that. But full-time work only exists in the form of teaching or engineering – neither of which I am qualified for (neither is most of the country for that matter). So that only leaves part-time work, with the exclusive choice of either working in a supermarket or a care home – both of which require previous experience that I (again in correlation with the many) do not have. Of course, there's always call centre work. But constantly telephoning people and asking them if they'd like cavity wall insulation somehow doesn't inspire much enthusiasm. There is literally no worse job in the entire world. Apart from having to work with Tony Blair, obviously.
Another major issue is that there is a severe shortage of middle-income jobs (such as those in administration), meaning that many more people risk being trapped in low paid work for longer. Personally, I do not know anyone with an absence of any specific skills who has managed to get a job without having a friend or relative already employed by the same company. This system of desperation and using “friends in high places” isn't exactly a great way to rebuild an economy. It’s as though the foundations of our financial system have been built using sponge cake.
One figure that the government coincidentally forgot to boast was that wage rises still fall way behind the rate of inflation (0.6% compared to 1.5%), which is not going to improve anytime soon if the job market continues to be infested with low paid work. In one of his celebratory tweets, the Prime Minister said: “these figures are good news for families all over the UK.” Note how families are no longer “hard-working families.”
The government has made the mistake of implementing a short-term solution to a long-term problem, which will ultimately make Cameron and Osborne’s financial recovery about as successful as the England football team. Simply throwing as many people off benefits as possible and forcing them, along with everyone else, into minimum wage labour is mainly to blame for the appalling increase in the number of food banks. Is this really something that should be happening in one of the most affluent countries in the world? What is completely clear is this: no, Mr Cameron, your government’s long-term economic plan is most definitely not working.
By James Morris