The Gazette on Friday let Ealing and Hillingdon GLA member Onkar Sahota get away with a staggeringly innumerate letter. I donâ€™t know if Sahota is ineptly rehashing Labour party spin or whether he is personally trying to deceive you.
In his letter Sahota mixes two misunderstood factoids with 200 words of polemic. The letter is about youth unemployment. Most of it can be ignored. It doesnâ€™t follow from the factoids offered even if they were accurate or useful, which they are not.
His first factoid is:
… in Ealing there has been a 7.7 per cent increase in the number of 18 to 24-years-olds claiming Jobseekerâ€™s Allowance for more than a year.
It sounds awful. It is true, but it is not honest. He might have told us it went up 11.4% the previous month. He might have told us that this number has shot up 8.4 times since the election. He might have explained what is going on.
This is claimant count (not unemployment) data from an ONS database called NOMIS. Click on the link: Aged 18-24 (> 12 months) – monthly from 2006. I have ringed Sahota’s 7.7% increase. This number has jiggled around between 10 and 50 from January 2006 and January 2012 and then quadrupled in the last 8 months. Long term youth unemployment up 4 times? Something has changed in the data, its processing, the benefits system or the underlying habits of this group. It has nothing to do with the economy. In fact the same quadrupling effect has been seen in Wales. What is going on?
The answer lies in the fact that the Coalition has reformed the previous governmentâ€™s New Deal programme which pulled people off JSA after 10 months and gave them a training allowance instead (at which point they artificially dropped off the claimant count). If they failed to get work and re-applied for JSA they were treated as new claimants. Tory hero Iain Duncan Smith has ended this dishonest merry-go-round. Now you just stay on JSA whilst you train and if you get into work successfully you drop off naturally. If not you stay on and your long period of unemployment is honestly portrayed in the data.
You can read more in this House of Commons Committee paper, scroll down to para 25. Indeed the DWP says:
If the number receiving a training allowance or supported by the Future Jobs Fund are included alongside those on JSA, overall there has been little change [in the number of long-term 18-24 year-old JSA claims] between May 2010 and March 2012. The total nevertheless remains significantly higher than before the recession.
Essentially Sahota is trying to turn a quirk of the benefits system into a youth unemployment story. Maybe he just doesnâ€™t know what he is talking about or is he actively lying?
Sahota’s second factoid is:
In Ealing there were 1,805 people of all ages looking for work last month, compared to 1,780 in May 2010.
First off he is wrong about it being all ages. It is just the 18-24 youth segment again but all durations of unemployment, see here and click on this link: Aged 18-24 (total) – monthly from 2006. He is being casual describing this as people “looking for work”, it is claimant count data again. Given the economic conditions inherited by the coalition only increasing the youth claimant count by 25 (1.4%) looks like standstill to me on the face of it. If you correct for the reform of the New Deal (take 160 out) which Sahota has unwittingly highlighted you could argue that youth unemployment in Ealing has dropped by 135 (7.6%) since the election. No great harm to young people in Ealing since the election then.
The big lie is quite obvious once you look at this data in the large. Youth unemployment in Ealing more than doubled under the last Labour government. It stood at 1,055 in January 2008 and shot up to 2,450 in September 2009. Every blip afterwards is a mere aftershock.