From the TUC

This country’s pitiful commitment to active labour market policy

05 Feb 2013, by in Labour market

Politicians and newspapers keep reminding us that unemployed people have a duty to do everything they can to get jobs. “It’s about rights and responsibilities”, they tell us, “they get help to find jobs, but in return they have to play their part.” It sounds as if there’s a wonderful set of programmes to help people once they lose their jobs, but they are so ungrateful.

The reality, as anyone who has worked with unemployed people knows, is rather different. Nick Clegg’s Youth Contract, for instance, provides support for just one in ten of the young unemployed people it claims to help. Most unemployed people desperately want jobs, and that is especially true of long-term unemployed people. Those who haven’t been in this position before are often shocked by how little this country does to help. 

I was reminded of these truths this week by the Council of Europe’s latest report on how well the UK is doing on implementing the European Social Charter. This country was one of the first signatories, back in 1961, and the first section of the first article commits the UK

to accept as one of their primary aims and responsibilities the achievement and maintenance of as high and stable a level of employment as possible, with a view to the attainment of full employment

Reasonably, the European Committee of Social Rights, which produced the report, regards investment in labour market programmes as a key test of a country’s commitment to this first – and fundamental – obligation.

Unfortunately, the UK couldn’t even provide the Committee with information about the number of people taking part in training, job rotation/sharing, employment incentives, supported employment, rehabilitation, job creation and start-up incentives. But they did note that the UK only spent 0.34 per cent of GDP on these programmes in 2010 and the average for the EU27 (that is, including the much poorer countries of Eastern Europe) was more than twice that – 0.78 per cent.

You don’t have to be especially adept at reading between the lines to sense how critical they were:

The Committee nevertheless notes from Eurostat that the activation rate in the United Kingdom (measured as participants in active measures per 100 persons wanting to work) was 1.5% in 2009. This was the lowest figure among the EU-27, where the average that year was 28.9%. Given that unemployment increased during the reference period, the Committee considers that the number of jobseekers who received active assistance was very low, and asks whether there are plans to make active measures available to a larger number of beneficiaries.

It’s worth looking at the original data in the Eurostat database to see just how lamentable the UK’s performance truly is:

Activation rate 1

Last month I wondered whether our government prayed “thank God for Bulgaria” for making this country look good in international comparisons. Perhaps I was unfair – they should be praying “thank God for Britain.”

3 Responses to This country’s pitiful commitment to active labour market policy

  1. Megan Dobney
    Feb 5th 2013, 9:27 pm

    Useful as ever Richard. Worth noting perhaps (with the opportunity for someone to create several fascinating Venn diagrams…) that the top three have TU densities at (on a cursory google) 52%, 37%, and 67% and that Belgium and Denmark both have TU confederation involvement in the payment of unemployment benefits.

  2. John
    Feb 6th 2013, 1:59 am

    ………. as if there are hundreds of jobs out there for each unemployed uk / British person! This government are doing their damned best to blame the unemployed for being OUT of work, because amongst other things it looks bad on their government statistics. To hell with the affect on the people concerned, or their families & finances.

    In the meantime more tax breaks are being given to oil companies, Osbourne sees Green growth economics as an anathema & to hell with many unemployed people being driven to the wall.

    A concerning & well written article Richard.

  3. Ralph Musgrave
    Feb 7th 2013, 7:26 am

    Interesting post, Richard. Though we should remember that Sweden was famous 20 or 30 years ago for the large amounts it spent on active labour market measures. But they’ve since grown a bit sceptical about what benefits derive from these measures.

    I.e. the important point in relation to active labour market measures is not the proportion of unemployed assisted by such measures, nor the total spent on such measures. The important point is to get the details of any measures implemented right.

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