JOBLESS FIGURES DON’T TELL THE FULL STORY

08/09/2014

I have stressed before in this column that youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing the Welsh economy today. The latest statistics from Jobs Growth Wales highlight the magnitude of the problem.

This Government initiative provides work experience for six months at Minimum Wage or higher for youngsters, to help them find their first job at the end of the period. Unfortunately fewer than half the entrants end up in employment after the six months. In contrast, the number of apprenticeships in Wales are at an all-time high, thanks to a £40m deal between Plaid Cymru and the Government.

Overall, there were 12,000 fewer people at work in Wales in April-June 2014 than in the previous quarter.  Wales was the only one of the UK nations to see a decrease in the number of people in employment during that period.

There are other problems facing our workforce which the statistics do not reflect. Foremost among these is the number of people working for very low wages, or not working to their full potential.  In times of austerity people are more willing to accept badly paid jobs, and this is especially true in Wales. This is one reason why the number of people at work remains fairly steady. For some years the cost of goods and services has risen faster than wages, and the earnings gap between haves and have-nots  is widening all the time. The Minimum Wage is inadequate for most households, and the aim must be to get every worker on the Minimum Living Wage. People at the top still earn huge bonuses, whereas those at the bottom, who played no part in causing the mess that we are in, continue to bear the brunt of the austerity measures.

Unemployment for 19-24 year olds in Wales stands at 21%, much higher than the overall figures. We have a duty to help the next generation equip themselves with the skills that businesses and society need. A vision is required to close the economic gap between Wales and other parts of the UK, and to rebalance the economy as a whole.