In PMQs this week, Ed Miliband argued that only the prime minister “could think it was a cause for celebration that over one million young people are still out of work in this country”, as David Cameron sought to see the positive in the first drop in unemployment since last spring.
And, though the figures show that unemployment fell by 35,000, public concern about it shows no sign of halting.
The Economist/Ipsos MORI Issues Index shows that, for the first time since 1998, two in five members of the public place unemployment amongst the main issues facing Britain, second only to concern about the economy, shared by 55% of the public.
Amongst the youngest group, those aged 18-24, concern rises to almost half (47%), though fieldwork was conducted prior to the release of these figures. Amongst Labour voters, there is little difference in concern about the economy and unemployment (49% and 54% respectively), compared with the figures for Conservative voters (31% and 62%).
There are indications from history that that concern still has room to grow; for much of the 1980s and 1990s unemployment was the most important issue facing the country, including during the recession of the early 1990s, peaking at 81% in 1993 when unemployment hit the three million mark.
As the below chart shows, concern about unemployment follows the actual rate of unemployment – however, they are more in tandem when unemployment is highest.
If anything, the signs are that concern could continue to grow this year. The last time unemployment reached the 2.6m mark, in 1994, as Blair was appointing his shadow cabinet, around three fifths were concerned about it, significantly higher than the level of concern now. Also, it is worth remembering the other economic issues bubbling under the surface; concern about inflation and petrol prices are currently at 12-month highs. However, it is concern about unemployment that is rising inexorably.
Jerry Latter is a senior researcher for Ipsos MORI