Regular readers will know the special nature of the middle Wednesday of the month to me: it is the day the unemployment statistics come out.
When I was first elected in May 2010, there were 3,650 people claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance. That is an appalling figure: for each of those 3,650 there is a story of ambition crushed, spirit defeated, dignity thwarted, future bleak, pride broken. For most there is a family who are affected also by the tragedy of joblessness. So whilst the bald figure is 3,650, it hides an even larger number who share in the trauma and sapping anxiety of losing a job and failing to find another.
That figure of 3,650 had come after a run of rising joblessness that started just before the crash of 2008. As the recession continued to bite through 2010 and the years after, that number continued to climb. Almost every middle Wednesday of the month I would see the new individuals and families added to the jobless total – a local testament to historic national failures and a global financial meltdown.
Every month I hoped we had reached the peak but every month I was disappointed, until something began to change at the beginning of 2012. February had reported an all-time high of 4,545 but in March that number fell by 55 – a small drop but one that turned out to be the beginning of a trend. By the middle of the year the numbers out of work had fallen by a few hundred. A few months later it was clear that the tide had turned and by June 2013 we were back beneath the figure I had inherited in 2010.
Almost every subsequent month saw more people in work, more families saved from the misery of joblessness. Sometimes a few dozen, a few times more than a hundred, each middle Wednesday brought news of a jobs-led recovery in Ipswich. In March 2015 the figure went below 2,000 for the first time in years and during March this year it dipped below 1,500 to an all-time low. A month-on-month fall of 6.1% in September took another 90 people off the jobless list – 90 people with work and hope and security.
In total, then, we have seen a fall in unemployment of a staggering 2,260 since May 2010 – a reduction of 62%. The best bit of this has been the fall in young people without a job. This is a group that particularly worries me, as all the evidence shows that if you cannot get or hold down a job in your late teens or early twenties, you are much more likely to be unemployed for the rest of your life. Back in 2010 there were 1,010 people under the age of 24 claiming JSA; that figure is now 155 – a reduction of 855. Six years ago you would need a full terrace in Portman Road to hold all the young people without a job; now you could fit them in the bar and still have room to spare.
The result of this is that we have done something that has proved beyond our grasp for generations: we have achieved full employment in our town. That in itself is a cause for celebration. As ever, however, the work is not yet done. There are still 1,390 without a job in Ipswich, 155 of whom are under 24 and 435 of whom have been unemployed for longer than a year. We will continue to push for more and more to come off that total, for as long as there is one person on the list, there will be someone whose potential remains unfulfilled.