In a recent posting, ‘The State, Enterprise and the Mystery of the Unemployment Figures’, we showed that the unemployment figures for Britain are not as healthy as the Tory and Lib Dem Coalition Government wants us to believe. We pointed out that neither the increase in the unemployed figures from 5.8% to 8% over the past three years nor the persistence of long term unemployed at around one million could be offered as evidence of economic ‘resilience’.
In the posting we described how the Government’s figures masked a much more serious situation. We pointed to evidence of under-employment (where workers wanted to work longer than their employers could offer), significant part-time work (at 8.07 million people, the highest since 1992) and the use of zero hour contracts.Based on available figures provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Government we pointed out that at least 200,000 people were employed on zero hours contracts.
What is a zero hours contract? :
1. A worker is not contracted to work either a set or regular number of hours but is only paid for the number of hours that they actually work.
2. He or she has to ‘standby’ in case of work and this makes financial planning and scheduling other work opportunities very difficult and child-care arrangements almost impossible.
3. There is no requirement for employers to pay the usual entitlements such as holiday payments.
4. Employers using zero hours contracts include Amazon, Buckingham Palace, Sports Direct, Westminster and the National Trust.
5. Some employers bar its employees ‘making up’ their hours with work from other employers as it reduces ‘flexibility’.
6. Employment on zero hours contracts makes calculating benefits and tax credits difficult. Remember, for example, most people on housing benefit are in work.
7. Some zero hours contracts require workers to be available to work abroad.
We thought all of the above was bad enough. However, on 1st August the ONS said that its previous figure covering the extent of zero hours contracts was wrong and the likely figure was 250,000.
It now appears that even these revised figures are wide of the mark. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (5th August) has published its commissioned employment survey. This reveals that approximately ONE MILLION workers are employed on zero hour contracts.
The personal difficulties zero hours contracts create for employees are acute. But there is another, very serious political point.
People on zero hours contracts are deemed employed and appear as such in the employment statistics. So when the Government points with evident self-satisfaction to the ‘resilient unemployment figures’ it is hiding the truth – Britain is not working.
The Tories and Liberal Democrats do not seem to be able to grasp the point that being economical with the truth – in this case regarding unemployment – is not a game called, ‘What can we get away with?’ The Government is messing with people’s lives – your life, your family’s lives and my life too.
We shouldn’t forget this and we shouldn’t let the Government forget it either!