The avalanche of good economic news continues today, with news that the number of people in work rose by 344,000 from Feb to April – the sharpest such rise since data began in 1971.
So if you’re Ed Miliband, how do you pick holes in this? You can say that much of this is self-employment – that’s up 8 per cent, but staff jobs are also up strongly. You can bemoan ‘zero hours’ contracts, but the total number of hours worked in the UK now stands at the highest for 25 years.
You can blame Londoners, and imagine that shows the economic weight of the south – sucking the life out of the rest of the country, as Vince Cable says now and again. Not so. The regional data shows a pretty widely-shared recovery: the biggest rise is in the North East. Next is the North West.
You can blame immigrants, and say that the population is also rising so of course there are more jobs. The important thing is the share of the working-age population in work. But that’s now 72.9 per cent, and will soon pass the 73.1 per cent high set in 1974. And those immigrants? The part of immigration that can be controlled by the government, non-EU immigration, now stands at the lowest for 16 years. Take a bow, Theresa May.
People who were not previously looking for work now are – a reflection of the success of the government’s Work Programme (take a bow, Iain Duncan Smith). Those in work or looking for it is at a 24 year high, and will soon be at an all-time high.
The flip side, of course, is average salary – it is rising slowly, and it may take many more years to reach pre-crash levels in real terms. This is a function of productivity problems: the less productive places are, the more folk they need to hire to do stuff. And the less that they have to pay folk, the more they’ll hire.
So Britain does have a a productivity problem. But the coalition’s reforms have meant we are witnessing what can fairly be described as a jobs miracle. The number in work is far exceeding George Osborne’s initial expectations – our work record is better than any G7 country other than Germany. Not a bad basis on which to fight the next election.