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Unemployment Down, Employment Up - Only If You 'Reclassify' What Those Terms Mean

21/04/2015 17:25 BST | Updated 20/06/2015 10:59 BST

In the UK of 2015 - currently beset by fevered electioneering - there is the sometime claim made by David Cameron and others that 'unemployment has fallen', and 'record numbers are in employment', but the reality of that claim is in fact quite different. The big Tory wheeze for 'falling unemployment' and 'record numbers in employment' is based on the 'reclassification' of the terms understood for what is counted as 'unemployment' and what is counted as 'in employment' aka moving the goalposts.

Unemployment can easily be totaled far more convincingly at approaching three million if the PR 'reclassification' of 'what counts' as unemployed and indeed, 'employed' is considered. As such, there is the far-from-convincing habit of mass signing off of JSA claimants and 'encouraging' them to become 'self-employed' doing piece work of some kind also becoming claimants of Tax Credits to supplement their meagre earnings from selling catalogues or running an eBay account.

David Blanchflower the labour market economist and former Bank of England, rate-setter, noted in May 2014, "Particularly after a prolonged downturn, there is a well-documented pattern of people failing as jobseekers and then moving into self-employment status, often out of desperation rather than anything more positive."

Wherever the said 'big Tory wheeze' originated - likely party policy hacks - it has been very much the basis for the 'record falls in unemployment' and the 'record numbers in employment', the much less apparent nagging details of those being of course deliberately glossed over.

It is important to also keep in mind the unremitting war of workfare and 'sanctions' waged against JSA claimants this amounts to 'being helped' by having to work unpaid as a JSA workfare conscript, or being rendered effectively destitute for the pettiest of reasons. Alternatively there is signing off, so it is pretty safe to assume that given such a 'choice' between material compulsion and the very precarious material means available through becoming 'self-employed' it is a 'no brainer'.

Between the Scylla of 'sanctions' and workfare and the Charybdis of poorly-remunerated piece work supplemented by Tax Credits, there is the same bleak outlook of properly paid and secure work simply vanishing and structural unemployment itself being restructured.

Although 'workfare' has a history several decades long in the UK, and 'sanctions' have always existed, the fevered intensification and acceleration of both by the Tory-led coalition government over the past 5 years is something never seriously seen before - despite the 'post-political' party consensus over the necessity for 'welfare reform' aka the workfare state.

Indeed, the punitive bulwark of workfare and mass registration of former JSA claimants as 'self-employed' can be seen as a cynical (post) political tactic which seeks to make use of the changing nature of work in the early Twenty-First Century and the diminishing number of actual properly-paying jobs.

In the UK of 2015, there are of course further small print clarifications which can be made of 'record numbers in employment', besides the 'record numbers' who are 'self-employed', thus being classified as 'employed'. The extremely harsh reality of chronic underemployment in which part-time hours must meet full-time costs - including soaring rent and bills - is one lived by very many who experience the UK's 'flexible labour markets' on a daily basis, the nature of such work also being almost always precarious and insecure: the numbers doing it put at a modest estimate of three million+.

Whilst election talk of 'falls in unemployment' in Austerity UK 2015 are thrown out with other sound bites it is useful to bear in mind the tawdry nature of such claims and that there really is no 'record fall in unemployment', anymore than there are 'record numbers in employment'.

The 'record numbers' now being erroneously counted as 'in employment' like those numbers used to show 'record falls in unemployment' are concocted and made to fit into categories invented for the purposes of spin, and to be sure, the stuff of a continuing and ongoing crisis.