Things I thought

Wednesday 12 December 2012

The Scheme For Full Unemployment - How The Tories Cook The Job Numbers

Today I'm going to do something I've not done before: praise the Tories. You see, as an anarchist, I yearn for a world where work is a thing of the past and, it would seem, the Conservative government (along with their sub-Robin-quality Lib Dem sidekicks) are well on their way to achieving it. Likewise, and if only for their sheer gumption, I must praise them for their success in convincing the public that they're doing precisely the opposite.

Today saw the release of the quarterly Labour Force Survey which aims to track what, if anything, Britain's 63 million inhabitants are up to at the moment. The headline stats, which various Tory twat-trumps have been gleefully bellowing all day, are that employment is up by 40,000 (or around 0.1%) and unemployment is down by 82,000 (or 0.2%). However, these are just the raw stats, raw in the same way chicken is raw, so swallowing them is not advised without at least acknowledging the following caveats. First of all it's important to note that this quarter's changes are all within the margin of error (which you can calculate for yourself here if you, as I, are an insufferable bellend) and occurred during a period which included Olympics, an event which might have been expected to produce more than a few extra jobs. Secondly, employment did not keep pace with population growth, likely to be in the region of 100-120,000 over the last few months. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the employment statistics issued by the government are, and have been for some time, a steaming crock of bollocks flavoured bullshit.

The Tories are cooking the books in three main ways. The first, and potentially largest, is through the Work Programme/Workfare. These government initiatives respectively force jobseekers to take mandatory training courses and work for nothing in return for the government not taking away your  Jobseeker's Allowance, a quantity of money which the government describes as "the minimum amount you need to live on". Despite the fact that in order to be on one of these programmes you must be jobless and claiming JSA, these people are not classified as "unemployed". In some cases (when a person is doing a workfare placement, "practical" training or work experience) they are simply described as "employees" and lumped in with the other 29 million employed bods. In other cases (hypothetically when a person is training on the work programme, though it's unclear) they're described as being in "government supported employment or training" which, bizarrely, still counts as a variety of employment, but is counted separately. The government admits to 171,000 of these latter beings (a rise of 19,000 in just the last three months). If these unemployed people were counted as unemployed, the official jobless rate would rise from 7.8% to 8.3%, close to the highest rate recorded under this government and higher than any recorded under the last one (though, to be fair, Labour employed the same statistical trick, albeit to a lesser extent).

However, we've yet to chew through the most fecal chunk of the bullshit sandwich: there are almost a million people missing from the official stats. According to the DWP, around 65,000 people a month have been referred to the work programme since its inception midway through last year, meaning an estimated 1.5 million people have been referred to it so far. Though a pitiful number of these people actually found jobs, around half of the people made to join the work programme when it began were forced into destitution within a year, most of them for at least three months, meaning they'd likely be classed as "economically inactive" (though still, strangely, not "unemployed" which is clearly what they are). The rest are still on the work programme, meaning that potentially hundreds of thousands of people are being counted as "employed" without actually having jobs.

The second way the government's been fiddling harder than a rooftop Topol is by slowly growing, both by accident and by design, the number of people classified as "economically inactive". People unversed in labour statistics might reasonably think everyone is either employed or unemployed. Well, they fucking well aren't. Just over nine million people in this country apparently don't have a job and aren't looking for one either. They may have recently won the lottery or married into a wealthy dynasty, meaning they never need to work again. Perhaps just as often, these people have been kicked off benefits and/or given up on looking for work entirely and are instead spending their days alternately sobbing and angrily shaking their fists at the sky. Either way, there are 900,000 more of them now than when the current cohort of clustercunts came to power, with 60,000 more joining the ranks of the forsaken in the last 3 months alone. The government likely sees these people (who, by definition, can't claim Jobseeker's) as successes, workshy wannabe parasites whose greedy grasping has been thwarted by the coalition's brave and noble war on poor people. Handily for them, the exclusion of these 900,000 poor sods from the official stats also shaves 3.5% off unemployment.

The ranks of the economically inactive have likely been swelled by the government's relentless barrage of unemployment-shaming. The lazy, factphobic way members of the coalition throw around perjorative words like "scrounger" and meaningless phrases like "alarm clock Britain" has probably encouraged those who can to avoid benefits and rely on help from friends and relatives where possible (this is also evident in the growing ranks of the self-employed-but-out-of-work who, again, are counted as fucking employed for some reason).

However, it may also have depressed unemployment in another, previously unreported way. As I mentioned earlier, our employment figures are gathered through the Labour Force Survey which is, as the quick amongst you will already have accepted, a survey. This means someone from the LFS has to call someone up (or, with the majority of first interviews, go round their house) and ask them lots and lots questions about who they are and how they live their lives. In an age where shirkers and skivers are routinely described like the particularly unloved lovechildren of a drunken tryst between Beelzebub and Hitler, survey respondents may be disinclined to put up their hands and mark themselves out as the benefit swilling dolepigs that they, in all actuality, aren't. This is then exacerbated by a couple of factors. First of all, at the beginning of 2011 the government stopped using face to face interviews (which people, dolepig or otherwise, are more likely to respond to) to get in touch with people. As a result, the full response rate dropped to around 50%. Secondly, the LFS is a kind of cohort study (meaning it studies the same sample of individuals over a period of time) with a couple of odd quirks. People who initially respond to the survey will be contacted again every three months for the next year, with 20% of burnt-out, cynical respondents being replaced with pouting, wide-eyed newbies every quarter. Unsurprisingly, not everyone can make it through all five gruelling questionnaires, and a substantial number disappear each time a new wave of contact is made. The surprising bit is what the LFS does when these people decide the don't want to respond to that quarter's survey: they assume everything is fine and fill in the gap with the previous quarter's data (a process called "imputation").

Why, exactly, you'd do this seems beyond me, unless it's a process specifically designed to under-record those who've recently become redundant and aren't feeling too chipper about it. That said, it's the way the survey's been conducted since long before the Tories began cynically tub-thumping about the evils of Britain's poor. However, the coalition's shameless barrage of shame does seem to be having an effect - the proportion of data imputed has increased by 13% since they came to power (full, nightmarishly boring methodology reports for the LFS can be found here).

A lot of the above could be dismissed as par for the course or, at least, as a problem with the (internationally recognised) Labour Force Survey rather than with the coalition. Still, the policies of David Cameron and his gaggle of cock-anused fuck-wranglers seem specifically designed to exploit weaknesses in how we collect the data (in the same way Thatcher's government did everything they could to move people off Jobseekers and onto other benefits). In doing so, they have created a truly Kafkaesque sitution - one where the jobless work and the workless are employed.


  1. If these unemployed people were counted as unemployed.

    MY prediction is that you are going to be found in an holdall with a tangerine in your mouth and a 'discrete BDSM for closeted Gentleman' leaflet clutched in your lifeless hand.

    1. I fucking wish. Assassination attempts are how you know you've made it as an activist.

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