We often hear from ministers that despite the faltering economic recovery, jobs are being created in the UK. New research out from the TUC finds that this is indeed true: overall 587,000 new jobs have been created between June 2010 and 2013 (this is the net figure). Good news you might think; but before we can reach that conclusion we need to dig a little deeper.
We already know that a growing number of people in the UK are 'underemployed', that is working fewer hours than they want and need to in order to make ends meet. Underemployment is at its highest level for 20 years, with 6.4 million people lacking the paid work they desire.
And now, the report from the TUC tells us that four in five of the jobs created over the last three years are in low paying sectors (defined as having an average wage of £7.95 per hour or less). Indeed, retail and residential care have been the two biggest contributors of new jobs. Now, it's important to note that not all of these jobs will be low paying - even low paying industries have some managerial and professional roles -
This is bad news. The number of households experiencing poverty despite at least one person being in work has been rising in recent decades, and it looks like this trend is set to continue.
The growth of in work poverty is partly due to the fast rising cost of living. The recent Minimum Income Standard report shows how the cost of a basic standard of living has gone up 25% over the last five years, much faster than the official rate of inflation. This is largely driven by the rapid rise in rents, energy, food, public transport and childcare. Childcare in particular is becoming a major problem facing low income working families, with costs rising at twice the rate of inflation, while support for childcare costs through the tax credit system has been cut.
But it's not just about costs. Whether work acts as an effective route out of poverty depends on the sorts of jobs people get - the levels of pay, number of hours worked, security of the contract and the possibilities for progression through promotion or a pay rise. People don't just need any old job, they need one that enables them to better their circumstances.
For this reason we've been looking at how employment and skills policy can be mobilised to reduce poverty and inequality through our Future UK Labour Market programme which is due to report in the autumn. Among other things the research looks at how to increase employer aspiration and demand for skilled workers and how to create pathways for progression in low paid jobs.
These are essential questions to answer if we're to see not just a growing number of jobs, but a growing number of good jobs.