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Unemployment numbers falling, but what do the figures actually mean?

Unemployment numbers falling, but what do the figures actually mean? An opinion piece by Graduate Ethan Loughrey

The inherent problem with governments, banks, data institutions and the like is that they can’t just say something like it is. Figures are released thatunemployment are impossible for the public to grasp without an understanding of their context. That is of course assuming that the information being released is straightforward.

For example, if there were to be an announcement that youth unemployment has fallen by 3% then that sounds pretty good. But what if 4% of youths that were on benefits are now in wasteful schemes that neither assist in the acquisition of work nor benefit the individuals in any way? Or if highly qualified graduates are employed in low skilled jobs that offer no chance to advance?

All people really know for definite is their own personal story. If the government is coming out and saying that far more people are in work now than were two years ago, then – one could be expected to feel – it stands to reason that those who aren’t, are doing something wrong.

Having completed my MA last September, I’ve been trying to ward off the chest tightening frustration and borderline despair that can come from unemployment. And I’m lucky in that I’ve no family to support. Young people though, have every right to be angry when they look at something like the Guardian’s youth unemployment map.

At first glance it would seem to back up the oft cited claim that to get a job you should “just move to London”. As if there were a free flight, accommodation and all expenses paid scheme to get you and keep you there while you looked for work. I’d go if there was. So would hundreds of thousands of other graduates who can’t currently afford it, which I’ve a feeling might be counter intuitive.

But there’s not and the government has a responsibility to the rest of the country to not – just improve their figures and statistics, but to create meaningful opportunities for those with and without specialist skills.

For those without, some of the training schemes are a good start. In particular, the apprenticeships that gives applicable real world skills and an incentive of £1,500 grant means employers benefit as well. Unfortunately depending on where you live there are a labyrinth of various websites and conditions which vary in how they treat people applying for apprenticeships.

For those jobless individuals already lucky enough to have specialist skills, “Work for your benefit schemes” are almost entirely pointless. Enough has been written about their kin following Cait Reilly’s court case, as to illustrate the futility of providing multi-billion pound companies with free labour. It just doesn’t make sense.

The government needs to do more to ensure that people signing for Job Seekers benefits are given every help they can be offered, as ambiguous as this sounds. No more “Sign here” conversations followed by a non-optional induction to ‘Work for your benefits’ after so many months. No more paying Work Programme providers a fraction of what they need to help people deemed ‘hard to employ.’

I won’t pretend to have a clue as to what will work for certain. I just know that what we have, isn’t.

Ethan Loughrey


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