Jobs down across sectors despite Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s claim of ‘ample opportunities’

 (Paul Grover/PA Wire)
(Paul Grover/PA Wire)

Unemployed Brits have “ample opportunities for people to get on and get ahead in the world of work”, claim Jeremy Hunt and Mel Stride - but is this an accurate picture?

In the latest push to tackle unemployment rates, the Tories’ £2.5billion Back to Work plan targets those who claim benefits without work for reasons such as long-term sickness or disability, and increases minimum working hours for Universal Credit claimants.

In a joint op-ed today for the Times, the work and pensions secretary and the Chancellor write: “We’ve been clear that unemployment benefits should only be there as a safety net, not a lifestyle choice.”

The chancellor and work and pensions secretary wrote that while “times have undeniably been tough”, they suggested that “the economic picture is far better than many would have you believe”, pointing to the 900,000 job vacancies across the UK as a sign.

Despite the chancellor’s optimism, the latest ONS data shows that work availability has continued to fall for the past two years, with current vacancies estimated to be 31.1 per cent lower than the March-May 2022 peak of 1.3m.

The figure has plummeted by 17.1 per cent in the past year alone, from 1,086,000 to 898,000, with 13 out of 18 sectors seeing fewer openings in the past year.

If you’re looking for a job in the food industry, IT and comms, or the arts, you’ll find opportunities disappearing faster than in other sectors.

Arts, entertainment and recreation have taken the hardest blow, at -34.5 per cent fewer vacancies now than the same period last year (February to April 2023). Jobs in accommodation and food services, in addition to retail, are down by a fifth. These sectors are typically more active when people have more disposable income and are likely continuing to feel the squeeze from the cost-of-living crisis.

But some other sectors which require a level of qualification also have fewer and fewer opportunities. Information and communication vacancies, which range from IT positions to PR, are down by a quarter (-25.2 per cent) from this time last year, and have been broadly falling since mid-2022. Professional vacancies in science and technical fields are also down by a fifth in this period (-19.6 per cent), despite the Prime Minister’s push for the UK to become a ”science superpower”.

Real estate is the only sector to see a substantial boost in available jobs, with 30 per cent new vacancies compared to this time last year.

Young people struggling to find work

While unemployment overall has risen to 4.3 per cent, younger groups are facing some of the fastest-rising rates.

Over-18s actively seeking employment are facing hurdles, with unemployment at 11.2 per cent among 18-24 year olds in January to March this year.

The ONS estimates that 326,000 young professionals (25-34 year olds) are currently unemployed in the UK, up by 21.1 per cent in the same period in 2023, with the unemployment rate at 4.2 per cent.

While some young people are “sick of working hard for no money” and have missed out on key office life due to the pandemic, some studies have suggested that millennials are “the hardest working generation”. So why might these generations be struggling to get into work?

Lack of clarity on pay, hours and job security

Though the ministers’ claim that there are nearly 900,000 (898,000) job vacancies is correct, it lacks key information about the jobs themselves: salaries, hours, or whether the contracts are permanent/temporary.

With 1.49m people in unemployment across the UK - and 166,000 of those becoming unemployed in the last quarter alone - the available vacancies could only meet 60 per cent of the workforce. But even then, is this accurate?

Since it is unclear whether the vacancies are for full-time contracts, or what salary they offer, it is not reasonable to argue that the shrinking pool of vacancies will solve the problem of unemployment, since it is not possible to say whether the roles would enable people to support themselves and their dependents full-time.

More than a million people across the UK are currently on zero-hours contracts, where a worker does not have guaranteed hours or income, and which have faced controversy due to the lack of financial security and stability for employees.

The latest ONS data in May shows that a quarter of zero-hours workers are ‘underemployed’, meaning they want to work more hours than they currently have.

Labour previously said that it will abolish zero-hours contracts, later changing its position to say it would retain an opt-in option.

A further 1.45m people are on temporary contracts, with 21.2 per cent saying they took the job because they could not find a permanent position.

The job vacancy shortfall is likely to be greater than the raw numbers suggest as a proportion of the 898,000 job vacancies will be temporary, part-time or for zero-hours contracts.