THE UK’s unemployment figure rose to 5.1% in the three months to December, a five-year high, official figures from the Office for National Statistics show. 1.74 million people were unemployed in the October to December period, up 454,000 from the same quarter in 2019.
The figures show 726,000 fewer people are currently in payrolled employment than before the start of the pandemic, and that almost three-fifths of this fall, 425,000, has come from those aged under-25.
The latest labour market figures showing that pay was up by an average of 5% compared with a year ago – a much bigger pay rise than has been typical for most of the past decade – is, however, a mirage.
If you remove nearly 730,000 workers from employers’ payrolls, many of whom have been in low-paid occupations such as accommodation and food services – where pay rises have been modest or non-existent – then it flatters the average.
ONS Deputy National Statistician for Economic Statistics, Jonathan Athow, said: ‘Our survey shows that the unemployment rate has had the biggest annual rise since the financial crisis.’
Figures from early February suggest that about seven million people are currently furloughed. Athow added: ‘There is a huge amount of uncertainty about what will happen to them when that scheme ends.’
If Chancellor Sunak does not further extend furloughing, unemployment will rocket upwards to almost 10 million at a stroke with all of its revolutionary consequences.
Sunak said yesterday: ‘I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone, and every job lost is a personal tragedy. At the Budget next week I will set out the next stage of our Plan for Jobs, and the support we’ll provide through the remainder of the pandemic and our recovery.’
Nearly 10 million people were furloughed between the start of the scheme and 13 December (the latest date for which figures are available).
Sunak therefore has a choice. Either he adds several hundred billion pounds more to the evergrowing National Debt by extending furloughing, risking a financial catastrophe for capitalism, or he ends it and plunges the UK into its gravest crisis ever with a massive increase in unemployment to over 10 million.
He may well extend the furloughing to September, to try to postpone a settlement of accounts with the working class. However, as the current London bus strikes show, the working class is already moving into battle to defend its wages and jobs.
The privatised bus bosses are lashing out at the wages and conditions of bus workers and getting an explosive response from the workforce. 2,200 bus workers at eight London garages are taking strike action against £2,500 pay cuts imposed by the bus privateer RATP, owned by the French government.
Bus drivers are calling for the entire bus network to be renationalised and put under public ownership.
Hounslow Bus Garage Unite Rep, Ian May, said: ‘We want to maintain and improve our members’ standards of living, not have their money cut, and we want everyone on the same contracts. It must come to sector-wide strike action to achieve it.
‘The bus company (RATP) are using Covid to slash our terms and conditions. While they are sitting in their ivory towers we are putting ourselves at risk out on the road every day.’
Also, at British Airways (BA) and the major airports a fire and rehire offensive by the boses is currently underway.
The Tories intend to put the whole burden of the capitalist crisis onto the backs of the working class. They are organising for mass sackings and fire and rehire on a massive scale.
At the same time, the Labour Party is now completely under PM Johnson’s thumb and is determined not to rock the employers’ boat.
The time to fight is now! All the union leaders who follow the Starmer line must be sacked, and the unions must mobilise for a general strike to put an end to fire and rehire and to the spectre of up to 10 million unemployed.
A general strike must bring down the Tories and bring in a workers’ government to nationalise the banks and the major industries and bring in a socialist planned economy with jobs for all.