From the TUC

Unemployment in the UK: a European perspective

09 Dec 2011, by in Economics

Here’s an interesting idea – at least it helped me to look at European economies in a new light.

We’re used to making economic comparisons between the UK and other European countries but, of course, the UK average obscures the difference between different regions. Today’s publication of Eurostat’s Regional Yearbook got me wondering: how does unemployment in the regions and nations of the UK look in the European context?

There are hundreds of European regions (literally) and in any case, most of us don’t know enough about other countries’ regional composition to learn much useful from seeing how the South East compares with Ticino, for instance. So instead, what I’ve done is to take the statistics for unemployment at national level in other European countries and regional level in the UK and put them in a single table, running from the lowest unemployment rates to the highest:

Country/region Unemployment
Norway 3.5
Luxembourg 4.4
Austria 4.4
Netherlands 4.5
Switzerland 4.5
South West  5.9
South East  6.1
Cyprus 6.2
East of England 6.6
Malta 6.9
Germany 7.1
Slovenia 7.2
Northern Ireland  7.2
Czech Republic 7.3
Romania 7.3
Denmark 7.4
East Midlands  7.6
Iceland 7.6
North West  7.9
Scotland 8.2
Belgium 8.3
Italy 8.4
Finland 8.4
Sweden 8.4
Wales 8.6
West Midlands  9
London 9
Yorks & Humber 9.2
North East  9.3
Poland 9.6
France 9.7
Bulgaria 10.2
Turkey 10.7
Portugal 10.8
Hungary 11.2
Croatia 11.8
Greece 12.5
Ireland 13.5
Slovakia 14.4
Estonia 16.9
Lithuania 17.8
Latvia 18.7
Spain 20.1

What can we learn from this? Well, for one thing, it helps to get a handle on unemployment rates in different countries. Intellectually, I knew that Swedish unemployment had risen, but thinking of it as similar to Wales makes it much more comprehensible. Equally, another way of thinking about the difference between the South West and the North East is that it’s like the difference between Switzerland and Poland.

Another point that emerges from this table is that the UK’s unemployment rate is still reasonablylow by European standards – even in the worst performing regions: there are 14 EU member states with unemployment rates higher than the North East.

And finally, next time someone tells you that the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Ireland are proving the ‘success’ of austerity, check out their position on this table – as Paul Krugman puts it, “they have made a desert and call it adjustment.”