According to the latest unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of people out of work dropped by 11,100 to 813,000 last month – the lowest level since 1975. It’s an impressive stat, so it’s no wonder the government is trumpeting it from the rooftops.
On the other hand, the overall picture looks much less rosy. The Bank of England may have cut interest rates last week to ease the tensions in the financial markets, but it’s still worried about inflation – high commodity prices seem to be pushing prices up across the board.
Meanwhile depressing figures continue to emerge about the housing market. According to a report yesterday from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, our houses are more expensive than they have been for 15 years. Thanks to higher house prices and rising interest rates, we’re having to apportion an ever greater share of our monthly wage packet to pay the mortgage. And to make it worse, our wages growth is also slowing.
One group particularly unhappy with its lot is the police, who are up in arms about the latest pay offer from the Home Office. A 2.5% hike was negotiated through the independent Police Arbitration Tribunal, backdated to September for officers in Scotland. However, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is refusing to offer the same thing to police elsewhere in the UK – the argument being that controlling public sector pay keeps a lid on inflation – and naturally this hasn’t gone down very well.
The police aren’t allowed to strike, which is understandable but doesn’t give them much of a negotiating position. Now they’re muttering darkly about crisis summits and member ballots and legal advice, with a view to some kind of industrial action. On the other hand, they do get paid more than most in the public sector - and that's not to mention the gold-plated pensions they get at 55.
With the jobless total low and high street prices rising, it's no surprise that negotiators want higher wages. But increasing public sector pay is only going to encourage inflation. It's a tough situation for the Home Secretary, but we hope she solves it before the police walk out and hand over the streets to gangs of deranged mortgage holders...