Unemployment is up, so where's the plan?

Unemployment and benefit figures keep rising, but Government continues with misguided and dangerous reforms; Jobs Summit passion a faded memory

There has been a sharp and sudden rise in unemployment over the last 3 months, apparently taking economists and forecasters by surprise.

Today’s Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) shows that:

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->The unemployment rate has risen from 6% to 6.8% in the 3 months to June.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->The increase on an annual basis is 16.2%

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->There are now 159,000 officially unemployed.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->There are now 255,700 jobless (either unemployed, not ‘actively’ seeking work, or not able to start work immediately).

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->The Maori unemployment rate is 16.4% and Pacific peoples 14.1%. Meanwhile the European rate is 4.4%.

For me the most shocking of these figures is the 255,700 jobless one - we haven’t seen rates like this for years.

And behind even these figures are the ‘hidden’ unemployed – among them, all those who have gone back to full-time study because they can’t get a job; the teenagers living at home who resist with every fibre of their being an acceptance that they too are ‘unemployed’; and all those who are working far fewer hours than they would really like, but can’t get anything more substantial.

When the most recent benefit figures are placed alongside today’s damaging stats, the picture becomes even clearer.

At the end of June this year, 333,000 working age people were on main social security benefits.

This is an increase of 75,000 – 29% - in the 2 years ending June 2010.

21% of these people were caring for children under 6.

30.6% of recipients were aged 18 – 24 years.

34% were Maori.

    Our society is one in which the gap between the well off and the poor continues to widen; in which Maori continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of unemployment; and in which too many of our children and teenagers grow to adulthood in a world of deprivation.

    At the same time John Key and Paula Bennett blithely continue with their misguided programme of welfare and industrial reforms, changes which will only serve to deepen the crisis.

    The current focus on pushing sole parents, invalids and sickness beneficiaries into paid work is ridiculous and cruel at a time when there are hundreds of thousands of people already out of work.

    No new jobs are being created. All the reforms mean is that people who are already having a hard time surviving have their lives made even tougher by Work & Income officials playing every nitpicking game they can to try and get claimants off the books.

    Likewise, extending the 90 day rule so that all employers will have the right to sack anyone at will during their first 3 months isn’t going to create jobs – it will simply deepen the cycle of humiliation and despair which afflicts most of us when we are ‘let go’ from employment.

    I wonder whatever became of the passion which drove John Key to hold the Jobs Summit a year and a half ago.

    That was a time when the Prime Minister loudly proclaimed his new Government’s commitment to getting serious about unemployment.

    Perhaps the Summit experience was just one of those little clouds Bill English talked about, wafting Mr Key away from time to time. All that’s left behind is the national cycleway project, ponderously beginning to take shape in a few places, but doing nothing serious to meet the current jobs crisis.

    John Key and Paula Bennett should come down from the clouds and look at what’s really happening on the ground in the cities, suburbs, towns and rural settlements of our country.

    National’s welfare and employment reform programmes should be binned.

    Instead, the resources of Government should be put to some serious job creation programmes; tertiary institutions should be funded adequately so that people who are locked out of work aren’t also locked out of study; and the minimum wage should be lifted to $15 an hour immediately to help kick start the economy from the bottom up.

    It would be great to see some passion emanating from the Beehive for real solutions to unemployment and poverty instead of a constant stream of legislation responding to the demands of bankers, big business, and the Sensible Sentencing Trust.