Wednesday 12 October 2011

When is a job not a job?

The answer, of course, is when it’s ‘created’ by politicians.  The only ways that governments can directly ‘create’ jobs are by increasing public expenditure and employing people directly, or by establishing profitable state-owned enterprises.  Neither the UK Government nor the Welsh Government seems likely to do either of those things any time soon, so claims that they are creating jobs need to be treated with considerable caution.
That didn’t stop both governments launching schemes yesterday under which they are both claiming to be creating large numbers of jobs.  I wouldn’t seek to deny that both schemes have their merits; but I don’t think that the headline claims stand up to examination.
Perhaps it’s partly down to my definition of what a ‘job’ is.  For me, if a government claims to have created 10,000 jobs over its life, then, all other things being equal, I’d expect there to be 10,000 more people employed at the end of the government’s term than there were at the outset.  For governments, however, creating 10,000 jobs seems to mean that over the government’s life, 10,000 people will have had a job at some time or another, not necessarily concurrently, and not necessarily for any length of time.
So the Welsh Government’s scheme, headlined as creating 12,000 jobs for young people over three years, actually boils down to 12,000 people having a six month placement at some time during the next three years.  There is – and can be – no guarantee that a single one of those people will still have a job at the end of the placement, or that there will be any more people in work in Wales at the end of the three years than there are now.
Then we have the UK Government’s scheme.  The numbers look more impressive but when one compares the size of Wales and England, they really aren’t that different in scale.  And, again, there’s absolutely no guarantee of any jobs at the end of the programme.
One supporter of the UK coalition, Peter Black, gamely tries to draw a distinction between the two schemes under which the UK Government has got it right and the Welsh Government has got it wrong.  But there are more similarities than differences between the schemes; both are based to a significant extent on extended periods of work experience.  The underlying principle, that of making people ready for work and putting them at the front of the queue is the same.  And the underlying failure of both – that they do nothing to ensure that there will be any jobs for which to queue – is the same as well.
Chris Dillow has an interesting piece today when he suggests that, regardless of what governments do, we are in for a lengthy period of sustained high levels of unemployment, based on the fact that the level of economic growth needed to avoid that is simply not attainable.  It’s a depressing analysis, but he makes a good argument for the prediction, even if it isn’t one which he or I would wish to see fulfilled.
I’d even argue that, in trying to get more people into the labour market by encouraging mothers back to work and by forcing older workers to wait longer for their pensions, the government is actually making the task of attaining full employment harder, not easier.  Add to that the continued drive for increased labour productivity, and the availability of ever-larger and cheaper work forces in other countries, and the task starts to look well nigh impossible.
A more radical approach would be to share more evenly both the work available and the rewards for performing it, in a fundamental re-think of the way our economy works.  I’m not expecting to hear either government produce proposals for doing that though.  Much easier to just recycle claims about ‘creating’ jobs and hope people will believe them.

1 comment:

You mean there's more??? said...

You have to factor in what these schemes mean and what they measure John.

My daughter recently went on a private sector delivered training programme for young unemployed. Which, it has to be said offered a grounding in work: she did really good stuff like basic litteracy and numeracy which were a great addition to her strong grades at GCSE.

Then she went on to work based training where she worked 30 hours a week for 50 pounds. Allowing her "employer" to cut the working hours for regular staff.

It did have a good outcome though, half way through she decided she was being taken for a patsy said a phrase that rhymes with bucket and went to the FE coll to do some A levels so she can go to university instead.

This, as far as the course whe went on is concerned is counted a fail....