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Hold the Christmas cheer; it’s a patchwork jobs recovery

Professor Chris Warhurst is the Director of the Institute for Employment Research. He said: "The good news from today’s figures is that unemployment continues to fall and more people are in work. In fact Christmas present looks good. Almost half a million jobs have been created in the UK this year. The employment rate has risen to 73%, continuing an upward trend that started in 2011. Unemployment has fallen to 6%, this time the continuation of a downward trend. And the UK’s unemployment rate is far lower than the EU average (6% vs 10%). It seems like glad tidings for UK workers therefore.

"But dig underneath the Christmas cheer and another story emerges, one that reflects a patchwork recovery in jobs. Not all workers have presents under the tree. Regional divides continue: the employment rate is highest in the east and south-eat of England, lowest in Wales; unemployment lowest in the south-east and highest in the north-east of England. There are age differences too: unemployment for youth continues to be very high – at 17% almost triple that of the total workforce.

"Moreover there are worrying developments within the labour market across the UK. True, employment is being created in the highest paying jobs. But at the same time more jobs are being created that pay the lowest wages. The outcome is a polarising UK labour market.[i]

"In fact, pay generally continues to be a problem. The government’s own figures show that average wages have dropped nearly 9% for men and nearly 6% for women since the financial crisis.[ii]  Many are even working unpaid. In a recent YouGov poll[iii], a third of workers say that they are now expected to do unpaid overtime. A key worry is that the incidence of low pay is rising, particularly for male workers. Helped by the National Minimum Wage, pay for workers at the bottom of the labour market rose before the financial crisis. That trend has now reversed. There are now more low wage workers in the UK.[iv]  

"In addition job insecurity remains a problem. In the YouGov poll, a third of workers worry that their job will get worse over the next twelve months. Despite the economic upturn in 2014, a quarter still worry that they will lose their job. It is younger workers, and those with young families typically, who feel most insecure. There are regional variations too: workers in the north of England are worried most about losing their job. The bridge between less pay and more insecurity is the rise of zero hours contracts. It’s a difficult form of employment to accurately measure but the government’s own figures show that the number of male and female workers on zero hours contracts has trebled since before the financial crisis, with the big leap in numbers coming from 2010.[v]

"Over the past year the rise in employment has been driven by self-employment. But this self-employment is relatively low paying – today’s taxi drivers rather than tomorrow’s techie moguls. Most of the self-employed are in the skilled trades, carpenters and joiners for example.[vi] With the economy not yet fully recovered, what is not clear is whether these new self-employed are the conscripts of the crisis – unable to find work other than by setting up their own businesses – or represent a new flush of entrepreneurial spirit in the UK. Whichever is the case, average income for the self-employed is also falling – down almost a quarter since the financial crisis.[vii]

"Indeed the ghost of Christmas present has a warning for the government: these changes in job quality might represent permanent structural change to the jobs market in the UK. The UK already has too many low wage jobs. Christmas future could be one of even more low wage – and more insecure – jobs. If this is the UK’s future it would harm further economy recovery. With less pay and more insecurity, consumers will lack the power and the confidence to purchase the goods and services that will enable UK businesses to grow.

"Christmas is a time for reflection. As with Ebenezer Scrooge, the ghosts are telling us that what we do now shapes our future. It’s perhaps time for us make sure that future is not a turkey."

Note to Editors:

Chris Warhurst is aailable for interviews.

Issued by Lee Page, Communications Manager, Press and Policy Office, The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255, Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email:


[i] Craig Holmes (2014) ‘Women and hourglass economy during the crisis’,

[ii] Craig Holmes (2014) ‘Women and hourglass economy during the crisis’,

[iii] TUC/Smith Institute (2014) Britain in Work 2014, London: TUC/Smith Institute.

[iv] Craig Holmes (2014) ‘Women and hourglass economy during the crisis’,

[v] Craig Holmes (2014) ‘Women and hourglass economy during the crisis’,

[vi] ONS (2014) ‘Self-employed workers in the UK – 2014’, August 2014.

[vii] ONS (2014) ‘Self-employed workers in the UK – 2014’, August 2014.


Lee Page, Communications Manager

Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255

Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221