In May this year I wrote a post drawing attention to the sly ways in which politicians respond to labour market statistics. The 3 month rolling average used by the Office for National Statistics provides certain opportunities to present new statistics in ways that are, well, downright misleading.
At the time of the earlier post politicians were guilty of presenting statistics as 'another fall in unemployment'. Today we can expect the reverse: the rise in unemployment between April-June (214,000) and July-September (218,000) will be presented as 'another rise in unemployment' and it's safe to anticipate some feverish comparisons between the performance of the Scottish labour market (bad) and the rest of the UK (good).
So doesn't today's ONS release confirm another rise in unemployment? Well consider the following table which extracts the unemployment figures from all ONS labour market releases through 2012 and lists the fall or rise on the previous 3 months.
|Date of release||Period covered||ILO unemployment||Fall/increase|
|April||Dec-Feb||219,000||Fall of 12k on Sep-Nov|
|May||Jan-March||221,000||Fall of 10k on Oct-Dec|
|June||Feb-April||220,000||Fall of 14k on Nov-Jan|
|July||March-May||215,000||Fall of 4k on Dec-Feb|
|August||April-June||214,000||Fall of 6k on Jan-March|
|September||May-July||223,000||Rise of 3k on Feb-April|
|October||June-Aug||222,000||Rise of 7k on Mar-May|
|November||July-Sept||218,000||Rise of 4k on Apr-June|
While it is not wrong to state that today's ONS release was the third in a row to report a rise in unemployment, it is a bit rich, and technically wrong, to claim that unemployment has increased for the third month in a row. The figures actually imply that following a spike in June, unemployment has fallen back slightly.
None of this is to suggest for a moment that the labour market isn't in a bad way. It surely is. The fall in employment announced today, the largest of any ONS nation/region, is unambiguously bad news. Our latest labour market report highlights some worrying trends too often overlooked in the public discourse.
The debate about Scotland's labour market performance relative to the UK is likely to intensify after today's release; unfortunately we can expect more heat than light. Anyone genuinely interested in assessing UK and Scottish trends should start with the framework provided by Brian Ashcroft's in this essential blog.