16 March 2012

Reporting Exeter youth joblessness

A few posts back, I remarked that there are only two Labour-held parliamentary seats in England west of Bristol. One of these is Exeter where the MP is Ben Bradshaw, who was Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport in the Labour government up to 2010. Like many MPs he makes use of Twitter (@BenPBradshaw), and on 15 March he tweeted this:
Dreadful #Exeter and SW long term youth (18-24) joblessness rates up massive 230.8% & 183.6% respectively Feb 2011 - Feb 2012 #toryfail
I was a bit alarmed by the figures he quoted, not because of underestimating the seriousness of youth unemployment across the UK, but for numeracy reasons. I am wary of percentages, which are after all only a form of fraction, when they are greater than 100 (although I’m 110% committed to this blog of course), especially when they come with a decimal place and so have four significant figures.

The formula for expressing a year on year increase as a percentage is pretty simple. If a year ago there were M of something and now there are N, the calculation is:
Percentage increase = (N – M) * 100 / M
So, if 1000 youths were jobless in Exeter in Feb 2011 and 3308 were jobless in Feb 2012:
(3308 - 1000) * 100 / 1000 = 230.8%
but Exeter isn’t in Greece, and more than three times the number of jobless than there were a year ago seems a bit surprising. Helpfully, every month the House of Commons Library produces a Research Paper which “contains labour market figures for parliamentary constituencies, as well as a summary of the latest national and regional statistics” and the March 2012 issue (RP 12/12) contains the data for February 2012. Table 2 on page 39 shows that in Exeter the number of Job Seekers Allowance claimants who are 24 and under in February 2012 was 725, an annual % change of 13.3. The equivalent number of claimants in the March 2011 issue (RP 11/26), at Table 2 on page 35, was 640. Using the calculation above:
(725 – 640) * 100 / 640 = 13.3%
as in RP 12/12.

There are no detailed regional statistics in the Research Papers but RP 12/12 has some relevant graphics. On page 6 there is a chart (below) which shows that the South West has the lowest unemployment level of the English regions.

There are also maps showing the unemployment rate in the South West:

and the change in the claimant count:

While some nearby constituencies are worse (top quintile), Exeter is not well-placed in the fourth quintile, but on both these measures the situation is far poorer in the North East (below).

It may be that Ben Bradshaw has made use of some other data which do substantiate the figures in his tweet. If so, the discrepancy with the situation which the House of Commons Library Research Paper seems to be indicating ought to be addressed.


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