As the general election campaign heats up, prime minister David Cameron made a startling claim on Monday night (March 30) – under his watch, he says, 1,000 jobs were created every day, an accomplishment he pledges to continue if a Conservative government were to be elected in May.
Sounds great, but just how much does this claim hold up under scrutiny?
Basic arithmetic does indeed point to an average of 1,000 jobs created a day over the term of the coalition government – divide the 1.8m jobs created since 2010 by the number of days in five years and the figure is more or less accurate.
But this gross simplification disguises certain inconvenient truths that the Tories are trying their best to hide as the election nears.
Take, for example, that the rising employment numbers have not been accompanied by an attendant rise in wages. In fact, the situation is just the opposite – as more and more people are funnelled into often low-paying work, wages have plummeted over the past five years.
Since inflation has outpaced earnings for all these years, the coalition government has presided over a labour market in which, no matter how hard you work, the work simply doesn’t pay.
The explosive rise in the use of food banks demonstrates that 1,000 jobs a day is no antidote to poverty. In fact, last year, a House of Commons Library analysis found that in-work poverty had exploded over the term of the coalition government – by almost 60 per cent. Now, if you are below the breadline, you are just as likely to be in work as out.
The number of people on zero hours contracts, in which employers are not obliged to provide workers a minimum number of hours, has quadrupled since 2010, further fuelling an economy based on insecure, low-paying work.
And then there’s the growing dominance of self-employment – of the 1,000 jobs created each day since 2010, a 400 of them have been in this category. We are now looking at a jobs landscape in which self-employment is at its highest level in almost half a century.
While a nation of self-employed workers may call to mind a society of bright-eyed, innovative entrepreneurs, the reality is far different – the vast majority of newly created self-employed jobs are in industries such as taxi driving, construction and carpentry.
Wages for self-employed workers are half that of full-time employees, and have fallen by almost a quarter since the financial crisis.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner argues that Cameron’s latest jobs pledge is nothing but a campaign promise without substance, designed only to make headlines.
“David Cameron’s claims will ring hollow with the millions struggling to make ends meet in low paid insecure work,” he said.
“He plucks figures out of the air, but is silent about the need for decent jobs that pay a decent wage, because on his watch we’ve seen a shift to a low waged, low skilled economy where zero hour contracts have become the employment model of choice for many employers.
“We need commitments for decent, secure jobs not the empty out of touch rhetoric of David Cameron.”