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UK employment makes us “The Envy of Europe”?

Employment in the UK is increasing at a faster rate than in any other European country; that’s according to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who also claims that the nation’s “jobs-led recovery is making us the envy of Europe”.

The announcement coincided with a speech by Prime Minister David Cameron in which he claimed that if elected; the Conservative government would strive to turn the UK into a nation of “full employment” with the highest rates of employment in the economically developed world.

Iain_Duncan_Smith,_June_2007On average, 11,000 people are leaving benefits and returning to work every week, according to the latest figures, with some 368,000 coming off of benefits in the past year alone. To put these figures into context, 368,000 represents about 1% of the UK’s working age population and is a rate of increase almost double that of the next best performing European country, Germany; although their overall employment rate is still higher than that of the UK at 74%, compared with our 72%.

Indeed the number of people in employment in the UK is now at its highest ever rate, 30.8 million people to be precise, according to statistics from Eurostat.

“By sticking to our long-term economic plan we are seeing more people in jobs than ever before, and in the last year alone there has been a larger rise in the number of people in work than any other EU member state.”  said Mr Duncan Smith.

Unemployed people, a political commodity?

The problem we have with these announcements is the jovial way in which they have been delivered, and how employment continues to be sold as the silver bullet with which to slay poverty, want, and dissatisfaction. Unemployed people would be forgiven for feeling like little more than a political commodity.

Whilst falling unemployment brings with it many benefits, the justification for celebration and self congratulation only holds water if you take a singularly 2 dimensional approach the situation.  jobcentre

The entire purpose of a healthy economy must surely be the quality of life, satisfaction and (dare we say it) happiness that it can bring to a population. Therefore, using employment figures in isolation as a demonstration of a government’s competency at improving an economy (and therefore quality of life) is misleading at best, and callous at worst.

Rightly or wrongly, the notion that employment is intrinsically bound up with people’s quality of life still prevails, but this view takes no account of other important factors that help determine people’s enjoyment and sense of satisfaction with their life. Pay rates, contract parameters, working conditions, upward mobility, cost of living and so forth, must take second place when “UK Employment, the Envy of Europe” makes for such tidy and useful headlines.

find-jobOf course, rising employment reduces the welfare bill and increases tax and national insurance contributions, which are both very good things, but the majority of people are understandably more concerned with balancing their own budget and making their own ends meet;  the national debt is pie-in-the-sky, when you have underpaid work to do.

In a country where the sting of recession is still being so keenly felt, would it be too much to ask that parties refrain from using patronising statements like “Envy of Europe” to sell their political agendas?

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