A rise in employment and sharp drop in the number of people out of work has had little effect on the scandal of low wages, the latest figures show.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday show that the UK unemployment rate has fallen sharply by 132,000 between April and June to 6.4%, the lowest since 2008, with a total of 2.08 million unemployed people in the UK. The figure does not include the 8.68 million people who are regarded as being ‘economically inactive’, or unavailable/unable to work. The economic inactivity rate now stands at 21.9% and is unchanged compared with January to March 2014.
ONS figures also show that there were 30.6 million people in work between April and June 2014, 167,000 more than January to March 2014 and 820,000 more than a year ago. However, the welcome rise in employment has been overshadowed by the lowest wage growth in thirteen years. Wages have risen by a meagre 0.6% over the last year – a real-terms fall when inflation and living costs are taken into account.
The lower than expected wage growth figures come at the same time as other figures show that the UK is now the self employment capital of western Europe. Figures from the think tank IPPR show that the number of self-employed people in the UK has grown by more than 1.5 million over the last thirteen years, growing at its fastest rate during the first quarters of 2013 and 2014. Self employed people now represent more than 15% of the workforce. Around two-fifths of all jobs created since 2010 have been in self-employment.
Unions have expressed concerns that self-employment can often be insecure and low-paid, and may not always include the employment rights other workers are accustomed to. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The British economy is in a Jekyll and Hyde situation.
“While the fall in the jobless total of 132,000 is welcome, we have to ask what sort of jobs have those people entered? The situation is compounded by the fact that more and more people are being driven into so-called self-employment in a desperate bid to get off benefits and find work.
“Self-employment is not the economic panacea that ministers crow about; it forces workers into a state without rights and with wage insecurity, and we are increasingly encountering people forced into `self-employment’ by employers who want to swerve their responsibilities.
“At the same time, the wage siege continues. If you strip out bonuses, wage rises are struggling along the bottom at a record low of 0.6 per cent which is hobbling the recovery in the UK economy. If self-employment earnings figures were included it would look even worse as the Resolution Foundation has shown.
“With George Osborne borrowing way beyond what he promised the nation, his mindless austerity policies are costing this nation and its people dear. This is no longer about reducing the deficit; it is about the systematic lowering of the living standards of ordinary people.
“Millions of people feel insecure in their jobs. Hundreds of thousands of our young people are languishing on the dole or press-ganged into workfare.
“Inflation is still running at 1.9 per cent – more than three times the rate of earnings. The case is clear that Britain’s workers need a pay rise – and this can be well-afforded by the companies which are sitting on a cash mountain of reserves.
“This government’s claims of economic competency are laughable. A government serious about job creation would not be borrowing to keep people in benefits, but would be investing to create work and skilled, decent jobs, through a mass house-building programme, rebalancing the economy away from its increasing dependency on the low-wages service sector, and tackling the chronic housing need in this country.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The combination of rising employment and falling pay growth suggests the economy is very good at creating low-paid jobs, but struggling to create the better-paid work we need for a fair and sustainable recovery.
“Self-employment has been responsible for almost half of the rise in employment over the last year. The fact that self-employed workers generally earn less than employees means our pay crisis is even deeper than previously thought, as their pay is not recorded in official figures.
“Falling unemployment is always welcome – particularly for young people who are finally starting to find work – but unless the quality of job creation increases Britain’s living standards crisis will continue and people will be locked out of the benefits of recovery.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Any fall in unemployment is welcome but the rise of the number self-employed is a worrying trend. They are likely to earn less than those in full time jobs as well as being less secure.
“Underemployment is now a bitter reality for millions of struggling families across the UK. And many have no option but to work part-time because they cannot find a full-time job.
“Too many people are stuck in minimum wage jobs, on zero hours contracts and part time work when they are desperate to go full time. Desperate because they need regular, secure employment to feed their families without having to resort to foodbanks, pay their bills without falling into the grip of pay day lenders and decent pay to rebuild consumer confidence and grow the economy.”
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has described today’s unemployment figures as a “double-edged sword”. The charity says that falling unemployment coupled with low wages and an increase in self employment ‘will lead to instability for working households’.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“With employment up but wages down, today’s economic figures are a mixed blessing for working families. The rising number of people in work is extremely welcome, but emerging trends in the economy bring a double-edged sword of more jobs but more instability and lower wages.
“The Government has undoubtedly made good progress on jobs and growth but increased self-employment, flexible-hour jobs and Zero Hour Contracts mean insecurity for many working people. Those people who work for themselves are just as likely to seek debt advice as any other working group. Self-employed people in debt helped by Citizens Advice are more likely to face bankruptcy than people in debt who are employed or out of work.
“On Zero Hour Contracts, we’ve had welcome announcements from the Coalition about banning exclusivity clauses but with this type of job a growing part of our economy, people with such a contract should also be guaranteed basic rights like maternity pay and annual leave.”
The Bank of England has responded to today’s news about poor wage growth by cutting its forecast in half. Bank of England governor Mark Carney said that he now expects salaries to rise by 1.25% this year. The figure represents the slowest pace in wage growth since 2001.
Responding to the announcement from the Bank of England, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It is hugely concerning to hear that the Bank has cut its forecast for wage growth in half. The economy’s getting bigger but not better with Britain’s pay squeeze now set to continue even longer.
“It’s not just wage stagnation that’s pushing down incomes, living standards are falling because so many of the new jobs being created are low-skilled, don’t have enough hours, or are in low paid self-employment.
“It deeply worrying that the Bank says ‘average household real incomes have yet to stage a meaningful recovery’. If people don’t have money in their pay packets to spend on goods and services it’s hard to see how we can return to sustainable growth. Consumer spending is holding up for now despite people’s real pay falling, but the danger here is people running down savings or increasing their debts.
“That’s why Britain needs a pay rise, because a recovery built on stronger household incomes will be a recovery built to last.”
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said: “As the economy continues to grow, ministers must not lose sight of the more than two million people stuck in the shadow of growth, and out of work. The legacy of recession is wages which remain far lower than prices, and with the Bank of England halving its wage growth forecast, many families will find that meeting household bills is even harder.
“Ministers need to make sure good policies, like financial support for childcare, reflect the new realities in the labour market. People taking up the growing number of flexible-hour and low income jobs are likely to struggle to get decent childcare, whilst 41 per cent of Citizens Advice clients say that finding a childminder or babysitter is a barrier to them taking on work.”