New Worker Banner

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

State of the Nation

by New Worker correspondent

ACCORDING to no less an organisation than the Office of National Statistics (ONS) workers in the UK suffered a 2.9 per cent decline in real pay in the three months from June to August due to inflation. This came even after a six per cent growth in average pay including bonuses and 5.4 per cent excluding bonuses.

On releasing these figures on Tuesday ONS said: “This is the strongest growth in regular pay seen outside of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic period.” In other words an effective pay cut is a good thing.

However beneath the headline figure it was also made clear that while workers in the private sector got 6.2 per cent, those in the public sector were far behind on 2.2 per cent.

At the same time the total number of UK workers increased by 69,000 to 29.7 million between August and September, while unemployment decreased by 0.3 percentage points between June and August to 3.5 per cent, the lowest since 1974. This is deemed something of a glorious achievement in 21st century Britain.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, boasted that these figures showed that “the fundamentals of the UK economy remain resilient” and promised that “our ambitious Growth Plan will drive sustainable long term growth, meaning higher wages and better living standards for everyone”.

But even he had to admit that “the number of job vacancies remains high … it has now dropped back a little, with a number of employers telling us they’ve reduced recruitment due to a variety of economic pressures”. He didn’t mention that many of these “economic pressures” were of his own making.

However David Freeman, head of ONS’ labour market and household statistics warned that: “the number of people neither working nor looking for work continues to rise, with those who say this is because they’re long-term sick reaching a record level”.

The numbers of working age (16-64) not working but not unemployed can hide a multitude of sins. It can include 10th Earls, lottery winners, students, and the early retired in various states of despair or comfort, but many are long term sick.

Surprisingly the Tories have often tolerated, for a time, people claiming to be long term sick when not entirely so as a means of keeping the headline unemployment figures down.

“economic inactive”

Those “economic inactive” but not unemployed have risen to 21.7 per cent of the working population or about two and a half million.

Freeman also warned that “while the number of job vacancies remains high after its long period of rapid growth, it has now dropped back a little, with a number of employers telling us they’ve reduced recruitment due to a variety of economic pressures.” Vacancies fell by 46,000 to 1,246,000 the largest fall since mid-2020.

Some bosses have been moaning that they cannot get staff. The BBC quoted the boss of PMG, a Bristol waste management company. saying that “we get a lot of interested candidates, we offer interviews, and then we get a lot of no-shows which is really disheartening and wastes so much time”. PMG claims to have raised wages to attract and retain workers, but it is obviously not doing enough.

The response of TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady to the figures was predictably insipid. The best she could do was to make the blindingly obvious observation that “millions of families face a bleak winter unless we get wages rising across the economy” and that “instead of handing out bungs to bankers and big business, the government should be focussed on getting money into workers’ pockets”.

She repeated standard TUC calls for a minimum wage of £15 an hour and a vague demand for “decent pay rises for all public sector workers, and allowing unions to go into every workplace to negotiate proper pay rises for all working people”.

At the same time market research company Kantar states that the average annual grocery bill will rise by £643 this year, in other words an extra £12 weekly for food and other groceries. In June it predicted a rise of £380 in 2022. Now a 13.9 per cent increase is on the cards, the highest since Kantar started tracking in 2008.

The head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar warned that: “based on our numbers, the average household is facing a £643 jump in their annual grocery bill to £5,265 if they continue to buy the same items. Taking that at a basket level, that’s an extra £3.04 on top of the cost of the average shopping trip last year which was £21.89.