Is the Government still overestimating job vacancies?

15 June 2012

Yesterday Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith caused a stir with his proposals to change the way in which poverty is measured in the UK.

One indicator put forward by Mr Duncan Smith was the unemployment status of a household, however some questioners on last night's BBC Question Time pointed out that this could be distorted by the fact that jobs are so difficult to come by.

According to Housing Minister Grant Shapps however, the problem isn't as big as some have suggested. He told one audience member that:

"There are something like 450,000 vacancies in the Jobcentre Plus system right now."

This seemingly echoed a claim made by the Work and Pensions Secretary on the radio yesterday morning, in which he said that half a million jobs were being added to Jobcentres every week.

Full Fact looked into this claim and found it wanting. So has Mr Shapps fared any better?

While superficially the two claims seem quite similar, there are actually some key differences between them.

Whereas Mr Duncan Smith refers to the number of new jobs being added to Jobcentre noticeboards every week, Mr Shapps points to the total number of jobs available to jobseekers 'right now', regardless of when they were added to the system.

The first problem we encounter is that data isn't available for the number of vacancies being advertised right now - the most recent figures cover April of this year.

But if we take this month as an approximation of the current situation, then a look at the figures might suggest that, if anything, Grant Shapps is underestimating the situation: in April over 494,000 jobs on the Jobcentre Plus system were classed as 'unfilled'.

However as we saw yesterday, this doesn't represent the whole story when it comes to vacancies, as unfilled jobs can be classed as 'live' or 'suspended' vacancies.

It is only the 'live' jobs that are actually open for applications for jobseekers, as 'suspended' jobs are defined by the DWP as:

"those neither closed nor currently available to jobseekers. In the majority of cases vacancies are suspended because the submissions limit or the closing date has been reached but there is outstanding follow up of the vacancy required before it can be closed."

When we look only at those jobs classed as 'live' then the total drops some way below the figure quoted by Mr Shapps, at around 306,000 jobs.

So while Mr Shapps is technically correct about the number of jobs 'on the system', jobseekers should be aware that the options available to them are slightly more modest.

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