‘The hidden unemployed’

Pete set up a car valeting business when he could not find a job
Pete set up a car valeting business when he could not find a job
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Today we shine a light on Lancashire’s ‘hidden’ unemployed.

Despite news that unemployment in Lancashire is at a six-year low, concerns are growing that the true picture on jobs is being obscured.

Latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions for December 2014 show there were 10,824 unemployed people in Lancashire - 1.5 per cent of the population - down 6,986 on the same time last year.

But critics say the figures fail to show the “significant proportion” of people who are struggling because they’re unable to claim Jobseekers Allowance or are ‘underemployed’. Today the Evening Post speaks to three people still struggling to make ends meet in today’s job market.

OFFICAL figures show the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance in Lancashire has fallen to the lowest levels for six years.

In Preston latest figures show 1,525 umemployed, down 1,103 on the same time last year, and in South Ribble there are 597 officially out of work, down 513 on last year.

But critics argue that the figures don’t show the whole picture, and the job market is not as rosy as it is being painted.

They worry that some people have been moved from JSA – which is used to calculate unemployment figures – onto other forms of benefit, including Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), are too readily put on sanctions where they cannot claim JSA, and are forced to move in to low-paid self employment.

The TUC said there is also a problem with underemployment, where people are forced to take on reduced hours jobs, and their research suggests there is a shortfall of 71,000 full-time employee jobs in the North West.

North West TUC Regional Secretary Lynn Collins said: “While more people are in work, there are still far too few full-time employee jobs for everyone in the North West who wants one. It means many working families are on substantially lower incomes than they would wish as they can only find reduced hours of work or low-paid self-employment.

“The Chancellor has said he wants full employment for the UK economy, but that means full-time jobs for everyone who wants them. At the moment there are still not enough full-time employee jobs being created in the North West to meet demand.”

To add to these worries, in October 2012, new sanctions rules for JSA were introduced, meaning that people deemed not to be complying with job seeking requirements are stopped from receiving their benefit for a set time.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said that sanctions are used as “a last resort in only a tiny percentage of cases where people don’t play by the rules”, and that people on sanctions or undertaking courses run by the Job Centre do count under the unemployment figures.

It also emphasised that the figures are worked out by the Office of National Statistics “and show a record number of people in work”.

The DWP declined to comment on underemployment, but speaking when the latest job figures were announced, Sue Heaton, manager of the Preston and Leyland Job Centres said the jobs that were being filled were significant roles – not low-paid part-time positions.

She said: “I have worked in the department for a long time and it does feel good at the moment. We are doing everything we can for our clients and there has never been more support available.”

Brian Walton organises the food bank which operates out of Brownedge St Mary’s Church, in Bamber Bridge, and sees many unemployed people among those collecting 120 to 130 parcels a month.

He said: “We ask people to provide a reason for why they are claiming and it seems that quite a number of those we see are unemployed and claiming Jobseekers Allowance.”

This has also been noticed by Coun Sue Prynn, Mayor of Penwortham, who helps at the town’s food bank.

It was Coun Prynn who first raised the issue at a South Ribble council meeting last month, where she called on councils to look at the official figures more closely.

She said: “There is a danger in taking these figures at face value, that we ignore people who are struggling to find work.

“To me as a local councillor, I find it really disheartening when it’s shown figures may be skewed as it makes it so much more difficult to know exactly what is going on in the borough, county and country so we can effectively plan services and allocate resources.”

21 year-old Pete from Preston, has been forced to become a self-employed car cleaner after struggling to find a job for three years, read his story here.

Rob Leeming spent five-years on the dole before setting up a new digital media business, read more about Rob here.

Stu Lowe worked as a landscaper for a year after leaving college, but after his fixed term contract finished, he struggled to find work, read his story here