We need to look at the full picture when it comes to employment rates

Employment rates, work and jobs are dominating the news in the run up to the Election. The big labour market story over the last couple of years has been the rising number of people in employment.

Employment rates are now at an historic high – a really positive story for families across the UK - and Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, pointed out last week that the Coalition Government has presided over a jobs boom, with 60% of jobs being full time (and employed, not self-employed).

60% of jobs are indeed full-time. However, this does not mean that the remaining 40% are part-time, says Aleks Collingwood. 9% are part-time jobs (employed), 14% are full time self-employed jobs and 17% are part time self-employed. When you examine the long term picture, the growth in self-employment and especially part-time self-employment are the bigger stories. This graph looks at the cumulative change in employment since 1992. It shows that full-time employment is now back to what it was in 2008,pre-recession.

What we can’t see in this graph is how many of these full-time jobs are low paid and how many people are still very poor, despite working full time. Other data also shows that wages have fallen relative to prices, at the same time that the employment rate has risen. JRF research shows that working households needed to earn substantially more in 2014 than in 2008 to achieve what the public thinks is an acceptable minimum standard of living. Overall, the cost of a basket of essential items rose by 28% over six years, while average wages increased by 9% and the minimum wage by 14%.

Evidence from JRF shows that around two fifths of working-age adults in poverty are working. Earnings have fallen for men and women across the income distribution since 2008, once inflation has been taken into account. The fact is that being in full-time employment doesn’t offer a guarantee of a decent living standard. Only one in five low-paid workers fully escape low pay after ten years.

These overall statistics mask variations between different groups of people: disabled men and women are much less likely to be in employment than non-disabled men and women. Disabled adults who are employed are much more likely to be low paid, even with the same level of qualifications as non-disabled adults.

So this rise in full-time jobs is certainly something to shout about. But so are the underlying issues that are hiding within this good news story. Full-time work is not a guaranteed route out of poverty. Too many people are stuck in low-paid jobs, living in poverty, with little prospect of being able to move into better work. We need better wages, but it’s not all about the money. We need good jobs that provide security, a chance to develop, and an income to live on.