The new ONS labour market statistics are out, covering October to December 2013. Here are the headlines:

  • The employment rate is 72.1 per cent – up 0.3 per cent on the previous quarter (July-September 2013), and up 0.6 per cent on a year ago.
  • There are 30.15 million people in work, up 193,000 on July-September 2013 and up a staggering 396,000 on the year.
  • The unemployment rate is 7.2 per cent – down 0.4 per cent on the previous quarter and 0.6 per cent on the same period the previous year. (Confusingly, this is a rise of 0.1 per cent on the previous rolling three-month figure which showed 7.1 per cent unemployment in September-November 2013.)
  • The number of unemployed people is 2.34 million, a quarterly fall of 125,000 and an annual fall of 161,000.
  • Youth unemployment stands at 917,000, down 48,000 on July-September 2013.
  • Long-term unemployment also fell – 1.1 million have been out of work for up to six months, a quarterly fall of 50,000 and an annual fall of 88,000; 398,000 have been unemployed for 6-12 months, down 30,000 on the quarter and 40,000 on the previous year; 845,000 have been unemployed for over a year, down 45,000 on the quarter and down 34,000 on a year earlier.

There’s always a predictable race to cherrypick headlines which best suit each party’s narrative. Labour miserablists like Ed Balls will be tempted to point to the rise of 0.1 per cent in the rolling three-month average unemployment rate, but that would be really grasping at straws. It’s a remarkable achievement that while many people have left welfare dependency and entered the workforce as a result of IDS’ reforms, that hasn’t produced a spike in unemployment.

The overwhelming message of the ONS figures is a positive one – particularly the sizeable fall in youth unemployment and the falls in each class of long-term unemployment. These harder to reach groups are also the most vulnerable, so the numbers are a good sign that the Government is making progress even on the most difficult cases.

There’s no PMQs today as Parliament is in recess – if there were, I doubt Ed Miliband would choose the economy as his line of attack.

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