There was plenty for David Cameron to sing about at today’s PMQs when it came to the ONS’ latest labour market figures, and sing he did. He said:
‘First, it is worth announcing to the House what today’s unemployment figures show. They show that employment – the number of people in work in this country – is going up, that unemployment is going down, and that – I know the Labour party does not want to hear good news, but I think it is important that we hear it. The claimant count – the number of people claiming unemployment benefit – has fallen for the seventh month in a row. It is interesting that over the past year, while we have lost 100,000 jobs in the public sector, we have gained five times that amount in private sector employment.’
Unemployment fell by 5,000 between February and April 2013 to 2.51 million, 7.8 per cent of the workforce, the Office for National Statistics found, while the number of people in employment rose by 24,000 to 29.76 million, 71.5 per cent of the workforce, the highest since records began.
But there are a few bits of bad news that, away from PMQs, Labour has been exploiting. Liam Byrne has already highlighted the rise in long-term unemployment, saying:
‘The tiniest glimmer of light is to be welcomed but today’s figures confirm the awful truth that there’s been practically zero progress tackling unemployment since last summer. Pay-packets have continued to take an absolute hammering while the government is cutting tax credits. Long term unemployment is becoming more deep set and employers are reporting skills shortages and more part-time workers are saying they’re desperate for a full time job.’
The number of people unemployed for over a year was 898,000, up 11,000 from November 2012 to January 2013. And the number of people unemployed for over two years was 458,000, up 7,000.
What’s interesting from today’s statistics, though, is that the rise is largely down to an increase in the number of pensioners seeking work or delaying retirement. One million over-65s are now employed, and the level for this group rose 2.3 per cent, while the 16-64 age group saw its employment level rise by 0.1%.
Today’s figures underline that Labour needs a strategy that doesn’t just rely on bad news. Cameron scored an easy win at PMQs today, and his soliloquy on the jobs figures contributed to that. If consumers are also starting to feel the benefits of green shoots, then it will become a great deal harder for Labour to cut through.