Michael Taft: Sometimes we get a set of numbers which leaves us guessing. In some cases, we have someone who can give some insight. On the face of it, it looked like there was a positive turnaround in income tax revenue. Until we discover that a sizeable proportion of that was actually DIRT revenue. And until An Saoi tells us that the ‘boost’ may be explained by the fact that April contained five pay weeks and three pay fortnights. This puts a different perspective on the returns – one not mentioned by other commentaries.
With Live Register figures we are likewise left guessing at what it could mean – if we even venture to put any stock in one month’s return. A marginal fall of 1,600 signing-on – or a drop of 0.1 percent – tells us very little. But there are other numbers that might tell us something more.
The CSO provides data for inflows (signing-on) and outflows (signing-off).
In April, there was a sizeable increase in the numbers signing-on – both Benefit and Assistance. In March, there were 33,100 new signing-ons. In April this increased to 40,200. There was also a marked increase in those signing off.
Without further information it is difficult to say what this means. New registrations are fairly straight-forward (though new registrations for Assistance could include a transition from Benefit, meaning no net increase; as well as part-time, seasonal and casual workers).
The reasons underlying the outflows are more difficult to assess. Some of this will represent job-finders. But it will also represent those whose Benefit has been exhausted but denied Assistance (such as those with a spouse/partner who is still in work); or those going on training schemes or returning to education; or those emigrating.
So are we seeing an increase in jobs? An increase in emigration? People who are removed for removed administrative reasons but are still unemployed? An increase in part-time and/or casual work but reduced full-time employment?
All we know was that there was a big spike in new registrations. And in the recent Stability Programme Update, the Government projects there will be nearly 30,000 fewer people at work this year.
So, between extra pay weeks and higher registrations for the Live Register – it appears that we are still heading full-steam nowhere.
Michael Taft is an economic analyst and trade unionist. He is author of the Notes of the Front blog and a member of the TASC Economists’ Network.