Two million unemployed now, three million unemployed later?

The Left Economics Advisory Panel reacts to the latest bad economic news:

Unemployment figures released today show that more than 1.92 million people were out of work by the end of November 2008. This figure is the highest since the year Labour came to power in 1997.

John McDonnell MP, LEAP Chair, said:

“On this basis, unemployment today is over two million. This is a depression not just a recession, and the Government’s measures have failed to protect people and preserve their jobs.

“A lack of planning and radical action makes it almost inevitable that unemployment will hit 3 million with the consequent human suffering.”

Graham Turner, author of The Credit Crunch and LEAP economist, said:

“The remorseless rise in unemployment continues and looks set to accelerate sharply in 2009. In addition to the job cuts, workers are seeing their pay squeezed. Average earnings growth slowed again in November to 2.7% y/y, the lowest increase since February 2003, and well below the headline inflation rate of 4.1% for that month. Real earnings continued to fall”.

“And the recession continues to take its toll on the public sector finances, with the current budget deficit rising from £25.9bn in the year to November, to £33.3bn in the year to December. The rate of deterioration in the deficit number is accelerating.”

Women workers will be hit especially hard by this recession, compared to the last one, reports the TUC:

During the downturn women’s redundancy rate has increased more quickly than the male rate. From January – September 2008 the female redundancy rate increased by 2.3 percentage points, almost double the rate of male increase (1.2 percentage points). It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue, leading to an even higher rise in the redundancy rate for women, or whether it will now level off to the same rate of increase as men.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘This is going to be an equal opportunities recession. Job losses in sectors where men predominate such as manufacturing and construction are now being balanced by job losses in retail and hospitality where more women than men work.

“But job losses among men are still more likely to hit the headlines as women tend to work in smaller workplaces where redundancies go unnoticed by the media.

“But with so many households absolutely dependent on women’s wages the Government must ensure that women benefit in full from programmes to help those facing redundancy and the long term unemployed.”

Yesterday’s Guardian had a letter signed by Labour MPs, trade union leaders, and anti-poverty campaigners, calling on the government to increase Job Seekers’ Allowance by 15 pounds a week:

A single person over 25 years old receives £60.50 per week, dropping to £47.95 for those under 25. The UK is near the bottom of the western European league table in comparative rates of unemployment benefit.

The gap between benefits and earnings has widened significantly over the past 30 years because jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) has increased at a rate below inflation. If it had increased in line with earnings, an unemployed person would receive in excess of £110 per week.

Politicians and government advisers argue that higher benefits would be a disincentive to work, but a wealth of evidence suggests that the descent into poverty has been a greater cause of economic inactivity. Benefit rates must be high enough to allow people to live a healthy lifestyle for physical and mental wellbeing. To achieve this, our long-term aim must be to substantially improve the miserly rates paid at present.

The government has rightly made a priority of increasing demand to maintain employment at as high a level as possible, and recognised the importance of measures that will have a speedy impact. Unemployed people, because of their low benefits, are particularly likely to spend any increases they receive as soon as they receive them – pound for pound, raising JSA levels will do more to fight off the recession than any other fiscal stimulus.

The Morning Star gets to The root of the problem:

THE most misleading statements that any government makes regard the problem of unemployment.

Certainly, unemployment is rising at an appalling rate and, given that the figures released on Wednesday relate to the quarter to November, the jobless count is undoubtedly over 2 million now.

And that only relates to those who the government hasn’t managed to sweep under the administrative carpet by reclassifying them, sticking them on makeweight, irrelevant courses in jobseeking or otherwise losing them in the flurry of apparently contradictory figures.

Include them and the jobless figure could easily double.

Add on those who, when they become unemployed, are immediately expunged as being too near retirement to count, allow for those who are forced into McJobs at insulting rates of pay and do not use the skills that they have acquired over a lifetime of work and you could probably double that figure again.

Manufacturing jobs are vanishing at an alarming rate, with 86,000 disappearing in the last quarter.

Around 225,000 people became redundant across the economy in the same period and almost every indicator shows that Britain is not in a recession but a full-scale depression, as MP John McDonnell has pointed out so clearly.

The misleading element comes in several guises. When Employment Minister Tony McNulty attempts to harangue young people about the “half a million vacancies that are available right now,” he fails to add that they are out there because they are either not in the same places as the jobless, do not match their skills profile or are so appallingly badly paid that only the starving and desperate would touch them with a bargepole.

He also fails to point out that, even taking government statistics as gospel, there are now over four people unemployed for every vacancy and that employers are seizing the opportunity to downgrade wages even further.

Nor does anyone in government admit that its disgraceful neglect of the state pension has driven hundreds of thousands of pensioners to continue working past retirement age since that is their only way to keep body and soul together, which cuts job availability even further.

But the worst misinformation is the statement that unemployment is the root problem.

Quite simply, it is most certainly not. It is an effect, not a cause. At the centre of the problem is the lack of finance for business due to the disgraceful conduct of the banks in clamping down on lending so far that it is strangling the economy and any chance of recovery.

And right at its heart is a government which refuses to force the banks into compliance, despite the fact that they are now largely owned by the taxpayer.

As GMB general secretary Paul Kenny acutely observed: “Putting taxpayers’ money into the banks is not working in terms of getting that money to companies. A change of approach is urgently needed to save job losses in the pipeline.

“The government must take control of the banks already in state hands and use them to do this job.

“The lesson has to be learned quickly that banks are just another public utility that the economy requires to function effectively.”

Mr Kenny, we really couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

If Hamas rockets are so lethal, why doesn’t Israel swap an F-16 for some?

It’s a credit to Mark Steel’s comedic talent that he can make you laugh about a subject that’d otherwise make you cry…

Now we’ve all seen through the Israeli government’s excuses

The worrying part about whether the ceasefire in Gaza can hold together will be whether the international community can stop the flow of arms to the terrorists. Because Israel’s getting their planes and tanks and missiles from somewhere and until this supply is cut off there’s every chance it could start up again.

The disregard for life from these terrorists and their supporters is shocking. For example Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wrote that the purpose of the Israeli attack must be to “inflict a heavy death toll and heavy pain on the Gaza population”.

Replace “Gaza” with “western”, and that could have been written by al-Qa’ida. Maybe this is the problem: the Israelis are writing their policies by downloading statements from an Islamic Jihad website and just changing the place names. Also, if the Israelis think the Hamas rockets are as lethal as they say, why don’t they swap their F-16 fighters and Apachehelicopters for a few of them?

These things are capable of terrorising a whole nation for years apparently, yet the Israelis have neglected to buy any, wasting their money on gunboats and stuff. Given that their annual arms budget is $7.2bn plus $2.2 bn in “aid”, they’d save enough to buy a selection of banks in every country in the world.

The military advantages would be enormous because the Israelis’ complaint about Hamas is the use of tunnels to smuggle arms. But if Israel gave Hamas a few planes and tanks and helicopters, they could probably be persuaded to shut down those tunnels that seem to be the cause of such bad feeling.

Whatever you say about Israel, at least it moves its weapons about legally – except for when it secretly built a nuclear arsenal against an array of international agreements. But they did it above ground and not in a tunnel and that’s the main thing.

Watching the reports from Gaza, another reason why the ceasefire may break down becomes apparent. The Israelis might claim that their satellite pictures now show Palestinians in possession of huge mounds of rubble – lethal if thrown over the border. Luckily these weapons are easy to spot. Most of them are next to women howling, “Look what they’ve done to my house,” but perhaps the airforce should bomb them again – just in case. The Israelis say they fear Hamas will once again break the ceasefire by sending over those rockets. But the whole point of the operation was to make that impossible. Because they must have asked themselves the question, “If we slaughter 1,300 people, including 300 children, is that likely to make people: A. less cross or B. more cross?” And presumably they concluded it will make them much less likely to grow up full of hatred and determination to retaliate. Perhaps they saw medical research that shows when someone is suffering from anxiety and bouts of irascible ill-tempered behaviour, the best treatment is to pen them in with no food or medicine and then kill some of them, and that calms them down a treat.

Another way to allay their worries about Hamas breaking the ceasefire is to read the report from their government’s own Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre. This states that during the ceasefire “Hamas did not take part in any rocket fire and sometimes prevented other organisations from attacking.” Still, with all that’s been going on I suppose they haven’t had time for reading.

Despite all this there might be one cheery sign, which is that never before have so many people seen through the Israeli government’s excuses for handing out mass destruction. The demonstrations in support of Palestinians have been bigger than ever before, and even the United Nations and the Wall Street Journal have suggested Israel has committed war crimes. One poll in America suggested that 60 per cent of people opposed the bombardment, and the change of opinion reached the point that an Israeli diplomat has admitted that “The harm to civilians in Gaza is causing us huge damage.”

Maybe, best of all, was genetics expert Steven Rose who appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme to talk about a new study that’s located “morality spots”, the part of the brain that deals with our morality. Asked how we could know whether this was true, he said in a marvellously posh academic Radio 4 voice “Well we could test the brains of the Israeli cabinet and see if they’ve got no morality spots whatsoever.”

And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing, as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: “Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time’s up? Come along now, haven’t you got homes to demolish?”