Politics live blog + PMQs: Unemployment falls

Posted by MereNews On April - 18 - 2012

11.15am: Here’s some more reaction to the unemployment figures.

From Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors

In tough times the private sector is leading the economic recovery, despite high taxes and costly regulation. Private sector employment is up 45,000 whilst public sector employment is down 37,000 in the latest quarter. Surprisingly, given the spending review, public sector pay continues to exceed that in the private sector. Public sector pay, excluding financial companies, stands at £467 per week compared with £459 per week in the private sector. If average public sector pay can be reduced then fewer jobs will need to be lost from the spending review.

From Graeme Cooke, associate director at the IPPR thinktank

There remain worrying trends underneath today’s positive headlines. The fall in the overall jobless count masks a continuing rise in female unemployment, now higher than at any point since 1987.

Long term unemployment continues to rise, reaching its highest level since 1996. There is a real risk that these people will struggle to take advantage of any upturn in the economy.

From John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

With the number of women in work at best flat-lining, and many men and women unable to find full-time jobs, it would be unwise to get too excited by a welcome fall in unemployment. A properly recovering jobs market is not characterised by a growing army of underemployed part-timers and pay rises still falling well short of price inflation.

From Philip Booth from the Institute of Economic Affairs

The fall in unemployment is good news. However, the government is still facing a huge and intractable youth unemployment problem. Its policy of increasing labour market regulation and imposing more burdens on employers is extremely unhelpful – and is still continuing despite all the rhetoric from Downing Street. Just this month, we have had the imposition of the EU agency workers directive, which the government decided to implement immediately, and new pensions obligations will be imposed on employers later in the year. These are poor policies to be pursuing in the depths of a recession.

11.07am: Scotland Yard detectives investigating the phone hacking affair have sent files relating to 11 suspects, including four journalists, to prosecutors, it was revealed today.

The Press Assocation have filed this.

Eleven suspects have been referred to prosecutors by Scotland Yard’s phone-hacking squad.
The cases of four journalists, one police officer and six other individuals are being considered, director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said.
Offences under consideration include misconduct in a public office, data protection act breaches, perverting the course of justice, witness intimidation and breaches of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).
Starmer refused to give a timescale for a charging decision but said: “We are now entering a period where we are likely to make a decision one way or another.”

10.55am: You can read all today’s Guardian politics stories here. And all the politics stories filed yesterday, including some in today’s paper, are here.

As for the rest of the papers, here are three stories that are particularly interesting.

• The Financial Times (subscription) says a Canadian has been informally approached about taking over as governor of the Bank of England when Sir Mervyn King retires.

Mark Carney, the governor of Canada’s central bank, has been informally approached as a potential candidate to replace Sir Mervyn King as head of the Bank of England in June next year.

One of the world’s most respected central bankers, Mr Carney, 47, now heads the Financial Stability Board, which oversees global financial regulation. He was approached recently by a member of the BoE’s court, the largely non-executive body that oversees its activities, according to three people involved in the process.

• Jim Pickard and Andrew Bounds in the Financial Times (subscription) says that most citities voting on whether to have an elected mayor next month are expected to vote no.

Plans for elected mayors could be a damp squib, with as few as three cities voting in favour in next month’s referendums, Conservative strategists have privately warned.

Greg Clark, cities minister, has predicted the votes will “usher in a new era of people power”, with elections set for November.

But ahead of the historic referendums across 10 of Britain’s biggest cities on May 3, ministers anticipate only three will say yes – Birmingham and maybe Leeds and Bristol.

“At the start of the year we thought if we got one major city to say yes it would be a success, anything beyond that is a bonus,” said one minister.

• The Daily Mail says a report suggests minimum prices for alcohol could save 1,000 lives a year.

Plans to introduce minimum alcohol pricing would save more than 1,000 lives each year, a report claimed today.

The Government announced last month that it was planning to set a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol for England and Wales.

An article published on bmj.com today said the proposal would have significant impacts on alcohol-related deaths, hospital admissions and consumption.

The report’s author, John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, added that a minimum price of 50p would more than double the effects.

Labour MP Liam Byrne may quit his post in the shadow cabinet to run for mayor of Birmingham
Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

10.34am: Here’s some more reaction to the unemployment figures.

From Liam Byrne (pictured), the shadow work and pensions secretary

We’ve had two years of excuses and now we’ve got the evidence – this government has utterly failed to tackle Britain’s jobs emergency, and we are limping along in crisis.

The number of people signing on is going up, we still have more than a million young people out of work, more women unemployed than since 1987 and a benefits bill that is spiralling by the day

Last month’s budget should have taken big and bold action to get Britain back to work. Instead we got a hand-out for millionaires, and a slap down for anyone on tax credits.

From Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary

This long-overdue fall in unemployment will bring relief to the 2.6m people desperately looking for work. While any rise in the number of jobs is welcome, the fact is that full-time employment is still falling and a record 1.4m are now stuck in involuntary part-time work. There’s also a sting in the tail for those in work, with wages falling even faster than feared due to low pay growth and stubbornly high inflation.

From Dave Prentis, the Unison general secretary

The government is digging itself and the country into a deeper hole with its swingeing cuts to public services and jobs … The government is failing to tackle the growing problem of long-term unemployment which is bringing misery to so many families. In addition, the record number of people forced into part-time working is masking the sheer scale of unemployment, and women are again bearing the brunt of job cuts.

From Andrew Sissons, a researcher at the Work Foundation

The slight drop in unemployment is an encouraging sign after many months of turmoil in the labour market. However, these figures make it clear that the improvement is being driven by an increasingly part-time recovery. The economy actually shed full-time jobs over the last three months. There are now 1.4m people in part-time work who would prefer a full-time job, which is the highest level since records began.

There are some good signs about the underlying health of the labour market: there has been a shift away from self-employment, and there has been a recovery in hours worked, which suggests some workers may be finding more work and greater job security. However, men have seen most of the benefits from job creation, with women struggling in the last three months. The fall in youth unemployment should offer little encouragement – employment amongst young people has continued to fall, and the small fall in unemployment is down to a rise in inactivity.

Brendan Barber
Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

10.20am: Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, will retire at the end of the year, the TUC has announced.

Barber has put out this statement.

I have decided that this is the right time to make a change in my life. I have been enormously privileged to work at the TUC since 1975, and the end of the year will mark the 10-year point since my election as general secretary.

The TUC has always been a powerful voice for the millions of ordinary people who depend on trade unions to better their lives and there is so much of our work over the years in which I take great pride. But I have every confidence that under new leadership the TUC can go from strength to strength.

Chris Grayling
Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

10.15am: The Department for Work and Pensions says today’s unemployment figures show “real signs of stabilisation” in the labour market. Here’s an extract from their news release.

New figures published by the Office for National Statistics today show another rise in employment, up 53,000 to 29.172m (ILO measure). This is coupled with a fall in unemployment of 35,000 on the quarter, to 2.65 million. This is despite the fact there are more people in the labour market, with a fall in inactivity of 25,000.

Today’s figures also show a better picture on youth unemployment. The number of 16 to 24-year-olds who have left full-time education and are seeking work is 719,000, down 11,000 on the quarter, while the number of full-time students looking for a job is 315,000.

Jobseeker’s Allowance is up 3,600 this month to 1.61 million. However, as this includes the effect of welfare reforms that are moving more people onto JSA from other benefits, the underlying trend remains broadly flat.

And here’s a comment from Chris Grayling (pictured), the employment minister.

Today’s figures are a step in the right direction but we still have a long way to go. We are pushing ahead with our strategy to promote investment and new jobs in the private sector and support people currently without work to take up those jobs. I am particularly encouraged that overall employment is now growing despite reductions in the public sector.

10.10am: Aung San Suu Kyi is going to visit the UK in June, Reuters are reporting.

10.05am: Here are the regional unemployment figures.

Region – unemployment from December to February – change from previous quarter – unemployment rate

North East – 144,000 – minus 9,000 – 11.2%
North West – 325,000 – plus 18,000 – 9.6%
Yorkshire/Humber – 248,000 – minus 21,000 – 9.3%
East Midlands – 189,000 – minus 1,000 – 8.2%
West Midlands – 239,000 – minus 3,000 – 9.0%
East – 203,000 – minus 17,000 – 6.6%
London – 431,000 – plus 7,000 – 10.1%
South East – 282,000 – minus 2,000 – 6.3%
South West – 179,000 – plus 4,000 – 6.7%
Wales – 131,000 – plus 1,000 – 8.9%
Scotland – 219,000 – minus 12,000 – 8.1%
N Ireland – 58,000 – no change – 6.8%

9.42am: And here’s the top of the Press Assocation story on the unemployment figures.

Unemployment has fallen for the first time in almost a year, leaving 2.65 million people out of work, new figures showed today.
The total dipped by 35,000 in the quarter to February, giving a jobless rate of 8.3%.
The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance increased for the 17th month in a row in March, up by 3,600 to 1.61 million, the smallest monthly rise since last December.
But other figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of unemployed women increased by 8,000 in the latest quarter to 1.14 million, the highest figure for almost 25 years.
The number of people out of work for over a year jumped by 26,000 to 883,000, the worst total since 1996.
The figures also showed an 89,000 rise in the number of people working part-time because they could not find full-time jobs, to a total of 1.4 million, the highest figure since records began in 1992.
There was a 53,000 increase in the number of people in employment to 29 million, although the figure is 57,000 down on a year ago.
The fall in unemployment was the first since the quarter to May last year, with the number of jobless men 43,000 down to 1.5 million.
There were 1.03 million unemployed 16-to-24-year-olds, down by 9,000 from the three months to November and the lowest total since last autumn.
The number of people classed as economically inactive, including those on long-term sick leave, students, those looking after a relative or who have given up looking for work, fell by 25,000 to 9.27 million, a rate of 23%.
Average earnings increased by 1.1% in the year to February, down by 0.2 percentage points from the previous month to the lowest since the summer of 2010.
Average weekly pay in private firms is £459, compared with £477 in the public sector.
There were 1.4 million working days lost through strikes in the year to February, the highest total since 2002, largely as a result of last November’s walkout by public sector workers in the row over pensions.

9.39am: Here is more on the unemployment figures. These are extracts from the ONS bulletin.

Unemployment rate

The unemployment rate for the three months to February 2012 was 8.3 per cent of the economically active population, down 0.1 on the quarter. The total number of unemployed people fell by 35,000 over the quarter to reach 2.65 million. These are the first quarterly falls in the unemployment level and rate since March-May 2011. The number of unemployed men fell by 43,000 to reach 1.51 million but the number of unemployed women increased by 8,000 to reach 1.14 million, the highest figure since the three months to November 1987. The number of people unemployed for up to twelve months fell by 61,000 on the quarter to reach 1.77 million, but the number of people unemployed for over 12 months increased by 26,000 to reach 883,000, the highest figure since the three months to September 1996.

Claimaint count

There were 1.61 million people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in March 2012, up 3,600 on February. The number of people claiming JSA for up to six months fell by 13,100 on the month to reach 893,800. This series has now fallen for nine consecutive months and it has decreased by 81,600 since March 2011.

9.31am: Here are the headline unemployment figures.

• Unemployment fell by 35,000 between December and February to 2.65m.

• The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance last month increased by 3,600 to 1.61m.

Here is the news release from the Office for National Statistics. And here is the statistical bulletin, with the full details (pdf).

9.08am: For the record, here are the YouGov GB polling figures from last night.

Labour: 41% (down 2 points since Monday night)
Conservatives: 32% (no change)
Ukip: 9% (no change)
Lib Dems: 8% (no change)

Labour lead: 9 points

Government approval: -37

8.31am: Lib Dem poll ratings may be dismal, but that did not stop Nick Clegg sounding on combative form in his Today interview.

Nick Clegg
Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Here are the key points.

• Clegg appeared to concede that there would be concessions to charities worried about the impact of the tax relief cap imposed in the budget. Ministers have already said that there will be a consultation before the plans are implemented, but Clegg hinted very strongly this would lead to changes.

Of course, as we said at the budget, we will look at this in detail. We have got time to get the details right. We will look at this in the round and we will do so with an open mind and very sympathetically, because we don’t want to damage charities. We don’t want to inhibit philanthropy. But … the principle of saying that there should be some limit to what are taxpayer-funded allowances in the tax system as a whole is something which is sensible.

He also said that the UK was almost unique among developed countries in allowing people to claim unlimited tax relief of this kind (as they can until the cap announced by George Osborne comes into force). Only Australia has unlimited tax relief, he said. Nick Robinson reads this as a hint that the government will impose a cap worth 50% of income, as applies in America, instead of 25%, as proposed in the budget.

• Clegg claimed that no future government would try to reverse the increase in the basic tax allowance.
The Lib Dems have made raising the tax allowance to £10,000 their key coalition demand and in the budget it was raised to £9,205. This would be the “legacy of this budget”, he said.

You have small changes in budgets which can be controversial or not. Then you have big changes in budgets which, in my view, can be judged whether they are significant or whether we believe that future governments are going to change them or not. My feeling is that what we are doing on the allowance is one of the biggest, boldest and most radical changes in the personal tax system for a very long time.

• He said that he enjoyed being in government. Asked if he was enjoying being in government, he replied: “Yes. It’s a great privilege. Of course it’s tough but it’s a great privilege. I feel genuinely lucky that I am playing a role, as other people are, in making sure this country is strong, prosperous and safe in the future.”

• He cited the fact that the Lib Dems did not win the election as the reason why they broke their promise not to vote for an increase in tuition fees. When Jim Naughtie challenged him on this, he said that he had only 8% of the MPs in the Commons. (On this, Clegg is actually missing the point. Breaking the tuition fee promise has been toxic for the Lib because it was not a promise about what they would do if they formed a government. It was a promise about how they would act as MPs – regardless of whether they were in power or not.)

8.23am: That wasn’t particularly revealing. Nick Clegg went further than any minister has gone already, I think, in signalling that there will be concessions to charities, and his last answer might cause him problems, because it could lay him open to the charge that he enjoys being part of a government cutting spending. (Politicians aren’t supposed to say things like this, according to certain daft media conventions, although of course we all know they enjoy politics – that’s why they do it.) I’ll post a full summary in a moment.

8.17am: Still going on the budget.

Q: You talked about fairness. But people are saying what you are doing is not fair. Is that why you are lagging in the polls?

Clegg says the government is taking big, controversial decisions. The economy suffered a heart attack. The aftershocks will last for years.

Lib Dem councils have all either frozen or cut council tax. Labour and the Conservatives cannot say that. Lib Dem councils are also more likely to help employees on low pay, he says.

Q: People remember you breaking a promise on tuition fees. People think that, if they cannot believe you on that, they cannot believe you on anything.

Clegg says he did not win the election. He only has 8% of MPs in the Commons. He has to deal with the world as it is. He would love to have a Lib Dem government. But he doesn’t.

The Lib Dems are delivering on all their four main promises, he says.

Also, as Liam Byrne said, “there is no money”. Two years ago it would have been easy to “retreat” to his tribal corner and throw bricks at the other parties. But he decided to sort out the mess left by Labour. That requires resilience and courage.

Q: So you are enjoying it?

Yes, says Clegg. He is proud of the fact that the Lib Dems are playing a courageous role in government.

8.14am: They are still on tax.

Q: Your answer shows how much the government has moved. You are saying you will change what was in the budget. You are constantly on the defensive, aren’t you?

Clegg says he is not in the slightest bit defensive about the fact that he has launched the Youth Contract, increased pensions, raised the tax allowance and increased the pupil premium.

He needs to “tell the other side of the story”, he says.

There has been an a “massive expansion” in pre-school support for children.

The governmnent is doing necessary things to rescue the economy, and good things that will last.

Q: But the budget appears to be incompetent: pasties, granny tax, charities.

Clegg says the “bigger picture” on the budget is that the government has stuck to its deficit reduction programme. Other governments have had to re-invent budgets. The government has made the economy safer. It has also introduced reforms worth £3.5bn that will make the tax system fairer. That will be “the legacy of this budget”.

8.10am: Jim Naughtie is doing the interview. He is starting now.

Times are tough for the Lib Dems, Naughtie says.

Q: You have to defend coalition decisions. Are you going to claim credit for a budget that you describe as fair?

Clegg says he attaches great importance to the lifting of the personal tax allowance in the budget. It will take 2m people out of tax altogether. You can have small changes in budgets, and you can have big changes. Clegg says this is “one of the biggest, boldest and most radical changes in the personal tax system for a very long time”.

Q: Budgets are packages. The stuff that is unravelling is stuff that comes from the Lib Dems. Charities are “livid” about the changes coming from your tycoon tax idea.

Clegg says everyone should pay their fair share of tax.

Q: Are you saying that people who contribute to charity are evading tax?

No, says Clegg. But it is normal in other countries to cap tax relief.

The government will look at this in detail. It will look at this “in the round” with an open mind and “very sympathetically”, he says.

8.00am: PMQs is back today and, in Ed Miliband’s office this morning, they are going to have a real problem: what budget disaster should they raise, given that there have been quite so many? As the Guardian says today in its editorial, “the budget is the gift that keeps giving – to the coalition’s enemies.” Even the Daily Telegraph agrees. “Rarely has a budget speech spent quite so long unravelling; rarely has the political impact been so negative,” it says in its editorial today.

But first we’ve got Nick Clegg, who is being interviewed on the Today programme in 10 minutes. In the light of a poll this week showing that, on the basis of their current performance, the Lib Dems could lose 50 of their 57 parliamentary seats, it could be good.

Here’s the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Unemployment figures are published.

10.30am: The Crown Prosecution Service publishes guidelines on how journalists can use public interest as a defence against prosecution.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband clash at PMQs.,

1.15pm: Tory MPs Jesse Norman and Dominic Raab and Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, a former member of the Commission on the Bill of Rights, speak at a Policy Exchange conference on human rights reform.

2pm: Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister, gives evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee on the Arab Spring.

As usual, I’ll be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a lunchtime summary after PMQs and another in the afternoon.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

And if you’re a hardcore fan, you can follow @gdnpoliticslive. It’s an automated feed that tweets the start of every new post that I put on the blog.

Article source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2012/apr/18/pmqs-politics-live-cameron-miliband-clegg

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