Given the near full employment Britain enjoys after a ten-year jobs boom, why is it such an angry and unhappy country?
The Resolution Foundation might have found the answer in its appropriately titled report “Setting the Record Straight” which explores how employment has changed since the financial crisis.
On the positive side, it makes clear that lower income and disadvantaged groups have been the main beneficiaries of the spectacular growth in employment that the country has enjoyed.
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Almost two thirds of the roles created since 2008 have gone to people in the bottom half of the income distribution. While young people can still find it very hard to get on the job ladder, the report says they have particularly benefited those aged 50 and under.
Nor has the growth, by contrast to the popular view, been swept up by London and the South East at the expense of the rest of the country. The largest improvements since 2008 have, for example, been in South Yorkshire (up 6.5 per cent), and Merseyside (6.4 per cent).
There have inevitably been losers as well as winners but the central point – that employment levels are at all time highs and the benefits have been spread widely – holds. Given that it’s always better have a job than not to have one, and there are a lot more of them than Britain has been accustomed to having in previous decades, why they angst?
Perhaps it can be explained by another of the report’s conclusions. Yes there are more jobs, but they are also more insecure.
Statistics showing record employment, and ministers’ boastful claims of credit for that, mean little to people constantly worrying about the jobs they have being taken away, particularly when they have financial commitments linked to them, such as mortgages and other loans.
Those hardest hit by job insecurity are those in part time or agency work and those on the much criticised zero hours contacts. Britain has 780,000 people in that situation, and 950,000 agency workers. One in seven workers, meanwhile, are now self-employed. All of those figures, notes the Foundation, are significantly above pre-crisis levels.
Another issue is that of pay. Average annual ‘real’ inflation adjusted earnings are still £470 lower than they were a decade ago. Too many people are in jobs that leave them struggling to cover their outgoings. The Conservative Party’s cuts to welfare have not been compensated for by the increases they have made to the minimum wage, which has led to the phenomenon of rapidly rising in work poverty.
The boom in unsecured credit seen over the last few years shows that people have turned to borrowing to make ends meet, or fund necessary purchases. When making repayments is linked to the insecure employment the report highlights, well, you don’t need me to explain the anxiety, frustration and anger people must feel.
The Foundation has called for policymakers to turn their attention to these problems as a matter of urgency. But there’s scant sign that they’ve much interest in doing so.
Instead they are focussed on Brexit, a policy that will only exacerbate the issues that the report, and I, have raised. It will have the effect of rubbing caustic soda into a festering sore.
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