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Wales’ jobs miracle?

May 21st 2018

Victoria Winckler looks at Wales’ ‘jobs miracle’.


A lot of our reports and articles are full of doom and gloom – perhaps inevitable when our aim is to develop solutions to some of Wales’most challenging problems. But our latest briefing, on employment, strikes a more optimistic tone.

For once, there is a good news story to tell.

Employment in Wales has soared over the last five years, with not far short of 100,000 new jobs being created. The proportion of people in work is at an unprecedented high. And contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority of new employment is in employee roles rather than self-employment and most is full-time. Wales’ employment rate is still slightly behind that for GB, by 2.5 percentage points, but the gap is narrowing and given the higher levels of ill-health and disability in the working-age population that is no small feat.

Some groups of people have hardly been touched by this achievement.

The growth in jobs hasn’t done anything to iron-out inequalities at work. Disabled people, ethnic minorities, and people aged 20-24 are all less likely to be in paid work than their non-disabled, White and older counterparts. And that’s before we’ve looked at the differences between groups of people in work, for example in their occupations, pay and prospects.

What price a jobs boom?

Around one in twenty (5.9%) of the workforce is in a temporary job, and about 3% is on a zero-hours contract.  Add them together (although we recognise that a proportion may be both temporary and on zero-hours) and not far short of 10% of the Welsh workforce experiences job insecurity. The figure is even higher for those in some sectors, such as accommodation and hospitality, and in lower-level occupations.

There are, of course, economists who would argue that the jobs boom has occurred precisely because of Wales’ and the UK’s ‘flexible’ labour market. This may be the case – but if workers are to be easily dispensed with by employers, then this labour flexibility should be accompanied by an effective safety-net. There needs to be a system of support for people out of work that doesn’t regard them as work-shy scroungers, receiving benefits that are too low to survive on. Instead, there should be compensation for taking the ups and downs of the economy on the chin.

Job insecurity looks set to stay

There are few signs that job insecurity is a flash in the pan. Temporary and zero-hours work have remained stubbornly high over the last five years. The sectors where insecure work is most common, notably accommodation & hospitality and health & social care, are both sectors forecast to grow in the next five years. So job insecurity is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Significantly, health & social care and accommodation & hospitality both receive substantial Welsh Government funding, either because it commissions health and care or promotes the interests of the tourist industry. There is a great deal that it could do to increase workers’ security in those sectors, and it could even explore effective packages of compensation for workers who do bear the brunt of ‘flexibility’.

We’ll be working on insecurity at work and other ways that work can provide a better route out of poverty in the coming months. The State of Wales briefing on employment is part of a series of bi-monthly briefings exclusively for Bevan Foundation supporters, all for just £3.25 a month – the price of a coffee.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation




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