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Published on November 20th, 2011 | by Seamus Macleod
Image © [caption id="attachment_5727" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Looking for a job. Image © John Puddephatt"][/caption]

Unemployment in the UK has reached 2.62 million with 1.6 million claiming jobseeker's allowance. These new figures were greeted in various ways by representatives of the three main parties at Westminster. Ed Balls continued to assert that: "The government is cutting too far and too fast and it's pushing borrowing and unemployment up at the same time," while Chris Grayling - the Employment Minister - gave a prime example of the Conservative's new but strangely familiar strategy of blaming Europe, stating that: "These figures show just how much our economy is being affected by the crisis in the eurozone." However, Lord Oakeshott - a Lib Dem peer - broke ranks and accused Mr. Grayling of economic ignorance. This was a view unsurprisingly supported by Mr. Balls who added that: "The British economic recovery was choked off well before the instability in the last few months in the eurozone." Party political wrangling aside, Mr. Balls and Lord Oakeshott are correct. Unemployment is a lagging indicator, meaning that the new statistics are reflective of economic conditions in months past rather than those emanating from the eurozone today. This, of course, does not mean that events in the eurozone have no bearing on unemployment in the UK; it means that its chilling effect is yet to be felt.

Within the headline figures announced were continuing downward trends for female employment - traditionally lying disproportionately in the public sector - and youth employment. Youth unemployment in particular has become the fetish of the day for the media. This evocative tale of children robbed of being robbed of their youth is appealing to those with a story to sell since it amplifies the consequences of unemployment by imposing them right at the beginning of an individual's working life. Of course, no major statistical announcement is complete without a Newsnight panel and on Tuesday we got just that. Ranks of the young unemployed gathered in front of Jeremy Paxman, Mr. Grayling, and David Miliband. Since losing the Labour leadership contest to his younger brother, David Miliband has largely withdrawn from public life - rumours of political sniping aside. It was surprising, then, to see him appear ostensibly as Labour's representative in the unemployment debate. This was not literally the case. He has apparently found work - lucky him - as the chairman of ACEVO's commission on youth unemployment.

During the programme Mr. Grayling advised those struggling to find fulfilling work to think laterally. He said that if they could not get the job they wanted they should try to get a job that, two or three jobs down the line, would lead into the career they desired. It would appear that David Miliband has taken this advice to heart. This chairmanship isn't an overtly political position but given his explicit and public withdrawal from domestic politics in order to give his brother space to lead the Labour Party, this return is significant. The issue on which he returns is too. Macroeconomic squabbling of the kind Ed Balls is so fond of may impress those with economics degrees but the specific issue of unemployment is a strong one for a man looking to return to front-line politics. In four years time the country is unlikely to be willing to head a message of economic stimulus but the issue of unemployment - particularly youth unemployment - is one that has resonated with the public in the past. Though the Future Jobs Fund may be history, it appears that the elder Miliband's political ambitions are not.

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Job for the future

Looking for a job. Image © John Puddephatt

Unemployment in the UK has reached 2.62 million with 1.6 million claiming jobseeker’s allowance. These new figures were greeted in various ways by representatives of the three main parties at Westminster. Ed Balls continued to assert that: “The government is cutting too far and too fast and it’s pushing borrowing and unemployment up at the same time,” while Chris Grayling – the Employment Minister – gave a prime example of the Conservative’s new but strangely familiar strategy of blaming Europe, stating that: “These figures show just how much our economy is being affected by the crisis in the eurozone.” However, Lord Oakeshott – a Lib Dem peer – broke ranks and accused Mr. Grayling of economic ignorance. This was a view unsurprisingly supported by Mr. Balls who added that: “The British economic recovery was choked off well before the instability in the last few months in the eurozone.” Party political wrangling aside, Mr. Balls and Lord Oakeshott are correct. Unemployment is a lagging indicator, meaning that the new statistics are reflective of economic conditions in months past rather than those emanating from the eurozone today. This, of course, does not mean that events in the eurozone have no bearing on unemployment in the UK; it means that its chilling effect is yet to be felt.

Within the headline figures announced were continuing downward trends for female employment – traditionally lying disproportionately in the public sector – and youth employment. Youth unemployment in particular has become the fetish of the day for the media. This evocative tale of children robbed of being robbed of their youth is appealing to those with a story to sell since it amplifies the consequences of unemployment by imposing them right at the beginning of an individual’s working life. Of course, no major statistical announcement is complete without a Newsnight panel and on Tuesday we got just that. Ranks of the young unemployed gathered in front of Jeremy Paxman, Mr. Grayling, and David Miliband. Since losing the Labour leadership contest to his younger brother, David Miliband has largely withdrawn from public life – rumours of political sniping aside. It was surprising, then, to see him appear ostensibly as Labour’s representative in the unemployment debate. This was not literally the case. He has apparently found work – lucky him – as the chairman of ACEVO’s commission on youth unemployment.

During the programme Mr. Grayling advised those struggling to find fulfilling work to think laterally. He said that if they could not get the job they wanted they should try to get a job that, two or three jobs down the line, would lead into the career they desired. It would appear that David Miliband has taken this advice to heart. This chairmanship isn’t an overtly political position but given his explicit and public withdrawal from domestic politics in order to give his brother space to lead the Labour Party, this return is significant. The issue on which he returns is too. Macroeconomic squabbling of the kind Ed Balls is so fond of may impress those with economics degrees but the specific issue of unemployment is a strong one for a man looking to return to front-line politics. In four years time the country is unlikely to be willing to head a message of economic stimulus but the issue of unemployment – particularly youth unemployment – is one that has resonated with the public in the past. Though the Future Jobs Fund may be history, it appears that the elder Miliband’s political ambitions are not.

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