The Office for National Statistics latest figures, released today, show that the overall number of people unemployed is down by 9,000, while the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance is down 3,700. Those sound like good figures. Not exceptional figures by any means but that unemployment is starting to go down is surely a good thing. The government will no doubt claim that this justifies their strategy of slashing public sector employment and hoping that the private sector will be able to take up the slack. And, indeed, while the number of public sector jobs fell by 22,000 over the quarter the number of private sector jobs increased 308,000. Of course this is all before most of the cuts for the spending review actually hit. 22,000 jobs is nothing compared to the 500,000 we’re expecting to go in the public sector over the next few years.

The overall figures, though, conceal a few important points. Whilst over the whole of the UK unemployment has gone down, that’s not true everywhere, there’s considerable regional variation. In Scotland, for example, the number of unemployed actually rose by 6,000 and the number of claimants by 500 quarter on quarter. Over the year the number of unemployed in Scotland is up 33,000 (or 1.2%).

The headline figures don’t’ tell you, either, that the number of people claiming for up to six months increased by 10,400 to reach 943,900, the number of unemployed up to six months increased by 21,000 and the number unemployed over twelve months increased by 20,000 by these increases were offset by a net decrease of 50,000 in the number of people unemployed for six to twelve months.

The types of jobs people are employed in are changing too, manufacturing is down 18,000 on the quarter, 96,000 on year (that’s 3.7%). In Scotland manufacturing is down 11.7% year on year. Construction, on the other hand, seems to be recovering, up 53,000 quarter on quarter in the UK and up 21,000 in Scotland.

The average actual hours worked was down slightly by 0.2% but up 4% for second jobs. People are finding jobs, but they’re not working as long. The jobs people are finding aren’t full time employed positions. They’re temporary, they’re part time and they’re self employed. the total change in the number of jobs over the quarter is 167,000 but of those 112,000 are self employed and 24,000 are unpaid family workers (up a massive 28.5% over the quarter). Of those 167,000 net new jobs only 25,000 are full time. The number of full time employees (so excluding those people who are self employed full time) actually fell 62,000. And those people taking part time and temporary jobs are doing so out of choice. They’re taking those jobs because that’s all they can find. There are 31,000 more temporary employees whose reason for temporary working is that they can’t find a full time job while there are 67,000 more part time workers who can’t find a full time job.

There’s a significant gender disparity too. The number of male claimants fell by 5,400 on the month to reach 1.03 million but the number of female claimants increased by 1,700 to reach 431,400. The number of women in full time employment fell by 46,000 while number of men in full time employment rose 71,000. the year on year change was similar with the number of women in full time employment falling 74,000 while the number of men rose 40,000.

So while we can all be pleased that overall unemployment hasn’t gone up, these figures aren’t quite as optimistic as the media seem to be presenting them. The ONS’s latest report paints a picture of manufacturing jobs going down, of public sector jobs going down and of increasingly temporary and part time work. When we focus on the macro-economic picture of numbers of unemployed, of GDP growth we risk missing something. The coalitions’ plans may force unemployment up and a double dip recession but they may not. Osborne’s plans may ‘work’. But in working they will force people out of good, long term jobs and into lower paid, less fulfilling and less secure positions.

About Alasdair Thompson

Alasdair co-founded Bright Green Scotland in 2009.