True unemployment figures obscured by rise in part-time work

The growth in part-time working is masking true unemployment figures, employers’ bodies have warned.

It had been widely predicted that unemployment would top three million before the recession is over but latest figures for the year show that nearly 2.5 million people are out of work.

The data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that there were 2.49 million people unemployed in the three months to October – up by only 21,000 on the previous quarter and the smallest increase in the number of unemployed people since the figures for March-May 2008 were published.

But employers’ bodies warned that company measures to stave off redundancies – such as shorter working weeks and part-time hours – were clouding true jobless figures.

ONS figures showed that there were just over one million employees and self-employed people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job. This is the highest figure since records for this series began in 1992, and it is up 34,000 on the quarter.

John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) warned that private sector employment was still falling, with signs of improvement confined to the retail and hospitality sectors, which are generating only part-time jobs.

“The number of people working full-time is still shrinking at a fairly rapid pace, with the number working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job now officially above one million,” Philpott said.

“The emergence of ‘part-time Britain’ is good insofar as it helps to keep the lid on headline unemployment, but is an underlying sign of the pain still being inflicted on the UK workforce by the recession.”

A spokesman for manufacturers body the EEF told Personnel Today: “Clearly there’s been a partnership between employees, employers and trade unions to ensure that employees have taken what could have previously been considered unpalatable measures to retain jobs such as reducing hours and taking pay cuts.

“It just shows the scale of problem we faced in a short period of time. Almost all those factors have meant we haven’t perhaps seen the apocalyptic levels of unemployment that some people were predicting at start of recession.”

Chris Ball, chief executive of The Age and Employment Network, said older men were faring the worst. “Despite the growth in unemployment slowing, [the unemployment] figures show that once again, older men are being disproportionately affected by the recession,” he said.

“The number of men between the age of 50 and the state pension age of 65 who are registered as unemployed for six to twelve months has grown by nearly 185% – almost trebling in the past year.”

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