Unemployment, 'wrong data', and the harm it can cause

By Bernadette Meaden
April 27, 2015


It has been reported on the BBC website
that Conservative candidates are making claims about falling unemployment in their constituencies using ‘wrong data’. This can be misleading for the electorate, and upsetting for people in those constituencies who are unemployed.

Whilst candidates from Labour and the Liberal Democrats quote the Office for National Statistics (ONS) unemployment figures, Conservatives are using Jobseekers Allowance claimant figures. This difference may seem like a boring technicality, until you look at the details. In its UK Labour Market figures for April 2015, the ONS says there are 1.84 million unemployed people, with only 772,400 claiming Jobseekers Allowance.

Quoting JSA claimant figures gives a far rosier picture of the employment situation, and it’s easy to see how it could be tempting to do so. As the BBC reports, even the Prime Minister and former Treasury Minister Matthew Hancock have succumbed to this temptation. In a press release on his website,
Mr. Hancock says that unemployment has fallen 57 per cent in his West Suffolk constituency
since he was elected, and there are "1000 more people in work." The BBC reports that actually, "The ONS figures suggest unemployment in his constituency has remained flat for the past five years."

The huge and growing numbers of people who are unemployed and either unable or unwilling to claim Jobseekers Allowance can be attributed to many of the changes the Coalition has introduced through welfare reform. For many people who are in and out of casual low paid employment, the hostility and suspicion they now encounter when making a claim, the delays and the hoops they feel they have to jump through are a powerful deterrent. Those who do claim are constantly in danger of being sanctioned, having their benefits stopped, and so disappearing from the JSA figures.

Indeed, in Mr. Hancock’s own constituency, Haverhill foodbank, whilst reporting the good news of a reduction in overall need, has seen,"a marked increase in the number of single people needing help …attributed to harsh benefits sanctions imposed in the last few years."

Whilst giving a false picture of unemployment can be misleading to the electorate as a whole, it can be particularly damaging for people who are unemployed. To be out of work at a time when unemployment is generally acknowledged to be high is one thing. Most people tend to understand that it is difficult, and are sympathetic to those who can’t find a job. But to be unemployed when people are talking about a ‘jobs miracle’, when local politicians are telling you that in your area unemployment has dropped by almost 60 per cent, you could start to feel that if you can’t get a job perhaps it’s your own fault.

Unemployment can destroy people’s self-esteem and confidence. When the situation in their local area is portrayed as being much better than it actually is, this corrosive effect can only be exacerbated. And when politicians try to present a version of reality that is completely different from people’s lived experience they increase cynicism and alienate people from politics itself.

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Views expressed by individual contributors do not necessarily reflect an official Ekklesia view.

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