Public sector cuts push unemployment past 2.5m

The government's austerity drive has sent the unemployment figure back through the 2.5m barrier. And now here come the strikes...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
And so for more grim news: the Office for National Statistics has said the number of people out of work rose by 80,000 in the three months to July, reaching 2.51m. That’s the sharpest rise in two years.

This puts the kybosh on the Government’s hopes that the private sector could shoulder the burden brought about by its bid to slash costs. That was always going to be a tall order in the current climate: given the economy's persistent weakness and lower all-round confidence, the private sector is hardly in a position to take up the slack – they’re too busy trying to keep their own bus on the road to hang out the back calling to the public sector’s jobless to hop on.

There are more grim figures: the unemployment rate rose to 7.9%, up from 7.7% for the February to April period. And the government's alternative measure for unemployment – the claimant count – showed an additional 20,300 people out of work and claiming benefits in August, taking that total to almost 1.6m. The glimmer of good news here is that this is not as bad as the City had feared following July’s figures, which saw an increase of more than 30,000. That’s the thing in times of appalling news – it makes news that’s merely very bad seem that much better.

That’s not to say it’s a good picture by any means. With the UK’s economic recovery fading it’s hard to see a way out of this. In an economy already scared of spending, where’s the confidence going to come from?

It may in fact be about to get worse - once the image of striking workers is splashed across the papers, adding to the parallels with Depression-era gloom. With public-sector unions now serving notice of ballots over controversial pension reforms, the Government is facing the threat of the biggest outbreak of industrial action since the 1926 General Strike.

Unison, Unite, the GMB and Fire Brigades Union have all given notice of ballots. Even the civil service unions Prospect and the FDA are threatening the same. According to Unison, 9,000 separate employers' groups will be involved in the action.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis accused ministers of trying to get a ‘pound of flesh’ from ordinary workers. He described the scale of the potential strikes, due to hit from November, as ‘unprecedented’. With the firemen on strike again, and the military’s Green Goddesses having been taken out of service since the last strikes of 2007 and thus unavailable for cover – and all against the background of rising unemployment – the Government may wind up having to give more than just a pound of flesh.

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