Kenny MacAskill: Why SNP shouldn’t boast about job figures

There was much crowing about the latest employment statistics. The UK bragging about the highest employment rate since 1971, whilst the Scottish Government boasting that the unemployment rate was lower north of the border.

Thursday, 21st March 2019, 6:00 am
Food bank use is often higher among people in work than the unemployed (Picture: Jon Savage)
Food bank use is often higher among people in work than the unemployed (Picture: Jon Savage)

It would be perverse to want to be seeing falling employment and rising unemployment but as the saying goes, there’s lies, damn lies and statistics.

We’ve been through the mass unemployment in the 1980s and many individuals are still paying the price and many communities still bear the scars.

So superficially, there’s a good story for both governments to tell. A new economy has developed in parts to replace the old heavy industries and new methods of work have grown up, allowing for some previously excluded to access the labour market.

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But the figures also mask issues which are nothing that governments should be boasting about.

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Nearly 2m people on zero-hours contracts

Work no longer means job security, let alone providing a route out of poverty. For the shameful plight of so many – on both sides of the border – is that they are in work but also remain in poverty, their wages being insufficient to keep body and soul alive. Hence why we have the perversity of food bank use often being higher amongst those in work than without it.

Likewise, a job might no longer be for life given the pace of technological change, but for many it isn’t even full-time. Supposed ‘flexible’ working can have benefits for some such as students or those happy with intermittent work.

But it can be catastrophic for many contracted workers who are unable to get enough hours to survive on. It’s also worth recalling that the strike on Clydeside a century ago was for a 40-hour week. Many now would be delighted with that, and even more so if they could live off it. So, what would historically be a good news story is distorted by the modern-day reality of the supposed gig and low-wage economy.

The figures spun by both governments ring hollow to many, and it ill serves them. It’s just another reason why political statements are increasingly viewed with cynicism or contempt.