Socialist Worker

Unemployment: Counting the hidden cost

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1776

The official figures admitted last week that unemployment is rising. The count which the government prefers (the number of people claiming benefit) rose by 4,300 to 951,000.

Every other indicator has been showing a rise in unemployment for months. The International Labour Organisations measure (which counts some of the jobless who cannot receive benefit) now stands at 1,510,000-a rise of 28,000 on the month.

More job losses are coming. Alcoa announced this week that it is cutting 6,500 jobs in the US and Europe. Jobs went last week at Longannet (Scotland's last deep-mine pit), BP (1,000 at Grangemouth), Energis and many more.

Marconi and British Airways are considering slashing more jobs. Already this year 123,000 manufacturing jobs have gone. They tend to be long term, relatively well paid employment. Many of the jobs created are poorly paid, part time and easily dispensed with by employers.

It is not much consolation to an engineering worker on perhaps £9 an hour to know that they can apply for a job at B&Q on £4.20 an hour. Digby Jones, director general of the bosses' CBI, is clear that the people he represents will try to pass on the pain of recession to workers. 'Firms are bracing themselves for a cold economic winter,' he said last week. 'There are more job losses to come, particularly in manufacturing and tourism.'

Longer term trends are far more devastating than a single month's figures. Internationally the recession is gathering pace. The International Monetary Fund has sharply reduced its forecast for global growth to just 2.4 percent for this year and next.

Anything less than 2.5 percent generally signals a recession. Right up to last month the IMF was predicting a rise of 3.2 percent for next year. The jobless total in the US has soared to an 18 year high.

Japan is on the brink of catastrophe. As leading commentator Martin Wolf wrote last week, 'If the world's second largest economy fails to stop falling prices and to increase demand it will descend into a deflationary spiral. 'That could force it to default on its debt.'

The recession as always will hit Third World and developing economies hardest. The British government is responding to all this by fiddling the unemployment figures and making even more concessions to the bosses. Millions of people who would like to get a job have been driven from the unemployment statistics.

Many of them have been moved into the column marked 'economically inactive', people who do not sign on as unemployed because they know they will not receive benefits.

In just the last three months the number of 'inactive' working age women rose by 100,000. The groups where female inactivity is growing most quickly are not older workers but those aged 16 to 24 and 35 to 49. Half of men over 50 are not in paid work. They have perhaps 25 years of life left but in many cases no prospect of work and no chance of getting benefits.

So they exist in a twilight world where they do not even show up on official jobless statistics. As the authors of a major new book, The State of Working Britain, write, 'There are now nearly five working age inactive people to every unemployed person.' Those people the education system has failed are suffering particularly hard. Even in the allegedly boom years for employment from 1993 to 2000, employment fell among unqualified workers in areas such as Tyne and Wear, and Merseyside. Employment in these regions fell by 3.9 percent for men, for women it fell by 6.9 percent.

Others are shunted off unemployment when they are put on long term sickness benefit. This removes them from the figures but also subjects them to a terrifying regime of threats and suggestions that they are scrounging. The government is much softer towards business.

Last week chancellor Gordon Brown announced to the Institute of Directors that he was considering further measures to cut company taxation. He reminded his fat cat audience of plans to cut capital gains tax from 40 percent to 10 percent in April for investments held for two years. Amid the devastation from the recession the voice of resistance needs to be heard much more strongly.

Words from the union leaders are not enough. They should stop bowing to New Labour and start fighting for every job.

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Sat 24 Nov 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1776
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