The Government has claimed that the latest jobless figures that show a rise in employment is a welcome step in the right direction, but employment experts argue it in fact underlies an employment situation that is worse than at any point in at least the past two decades.

According to the Office for National Statistics employment is up 105,000 to 29.23 million, complemented by another fall in unemployment, down by 45,000 on the quarter, to 2.63 million.

There has also been a fall in the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, down 13,700 between March and April 2012. The number of 16 to 24-year-olds who have left full-time education and are seeking work is now 707,000, down 24,000 on the quarter. The number of full-time students looking for a job is 314,000. This comes at the same time as the Department for Work and Pensions releases figures showing almost 50,000 18 to 24 year olds have undertaken a work experience placement since January 2011.

Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, said:

“These figures are a welcome step in the right direction. For a number of months now employment has been growing and this is starting to feed through into improving unemployment figures. However, we still face significant international uncertainty so we need to hold firm on our current economic strategy and continue to do everything we can to ensure unemployment continues to fall.”

However, according to Dr John Philpott, Chief Economic Adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), these “odd figures” are explained by a surge in part-time odd jobbing.

He said:

“While optimists might conclude that this casts doubt on the reliability of the most recent official GDP growth figures, a more sober assessment is that a very weak economy is managing to keep unemployment in check only by maintaining a severe squeeze on the size of pay packets and creating enough low productivity work to allow people to avoid the dole by doing the odd part-time job here and there, either as employees or on a casual self-employed basis.

“While a weak double dip labour market might be able to sustain enough odd jobbing to prevent unemployment hitting the three million mark, the combination of a growing army of underemployed odd jobbers, 2.63 million people unemployed and pay rises still lagging well behind price inflation suggests that the underlying employment situation is worse than at any point in at least the past two decades.”

Added Gagandeep Prasad, Associate at Charles Russell LLP:

“It is important to remember that this is a small decrease in a relatively large unemployment figure and that certain sections of society, such as the young and those working in the public sector (many of whom are women), still face a challenging employment environment. It is hoped by some that the planned changes to parental leave announced in the Queen’s Speech last week (that both parents may share parenting responsibility and balance work and family commitments) will help to address this. However, it remains to be seen whether, in reality, fathers will actually take shared parental leave and risk being seen to be less committed to work in the current climate.”