Saturday, 7 April 2012

Unemployment by Parliamentary Constituency

Duncan Weldon has an interesting piece in The Guardian on how unemployment is affecting different parts of the country differently, and how this could affect the election. This bit caught my attention:
The national rate of people claiming jobseekers' allowance is currently 5%. In Labour-held seats, the rate is an average 5.2%, while in Conservative-held seats it is considerably lower at 2.9%. In the 50 most marginal Conservative-held seats it is 3.6%, well below the national average and that of Labour-held seats.
The first thing to note is something seems a little wrong. If the national % unemployed (let's call it that for now but it is a narrow measure) is 5%, and the Conservative seats, by far the most numerous, only suffer 2.9%, then one would think the others would have much higher unemployment to bring the average up. But Labour's seats, the second most numerous, see only slightly higher unemployment than the national average at 5.2%. A quick calculation suggests this means the Lib Dems and other parties must have an unemployment rate of something like 11%, which isn't credible.

In fact although the UK claimant count is nationally said to be 5.0%, the individual constituency data  averages to 4.2% nationally, a number which fits the party figures much better [1].

The following table shows this national figure of unemployment in % for May 2010 and Feb 2012 and split out by constituency according to the party affiliation of its MP. The figures I calculate are slightly different than Duncan's, perhaps because I'm using old constituencies. I would use his if you want the accurate numbers.

Party Unemployment May 2010 Unemployment Feb 2012 Change
Conservative 2.8 3.1 0.30
Labour 4.9 5.5 0.66
Lib Dems 2.9 3.3 0.45
SNP 3.0 3.5 0.45
PC 2.7 3.3 0.45
GB 3.7 4.2 0.50

It's no surprise that unemployment is higher in Labour constituencies than others. What might matter more in for the next election is the change in unemployment since the last election, which is shown in the final column. It is again true that since the last election unemployment has risen by more in Labour seats (0.66% points) than Lib Dems' (0.45%) and especially Tories' (0.30%)  - although note the Lib Dems and nationalist party seats have seen the biggest proportional rise.

With respect to the election though, what matters is the marginal constituencies. Here the situation is less clear-cut. In the 50 most marginal Conservative seats to Labour (on 2010 boundaries [2]) the unemployment rate has risen from 3.7% to 4.1%, an increase of 0.42% points. This is very similar to the national average. By comparison the 50 most marginal Labour seats to the Tories have seen a rise from 4.4% to 4.9%, an increase of 0.57% points. So I don't really see any obvious difference in the marginal seats than the national picture.

Here's a chart which shows this is more detail. Each dot represents one of the 100 most marginal Con/Labour seats. On the horizontal axis is plotted the Conservatives' lead over Labour in % points at the 2010 election. On the vertical axis the change in unemployment. There isn't a huge difference between them, except the trend for Conservative seats to have lower unemployment. Note the two labelled seats have presumably seen such a large increase because (I think) the data is not seasonally adjusted [3].

So my tentative conclusion is the marginal seats are seeing no better unemployment situation than any other, although Conservative seats in general are having a better time of it.

[1]The reason for this discrepancy is unknown to me, maybe a difference between claimants and the jobseeker's allowance or perhaps seasonal adjustment?)
[2] The new boundaries perhaps render this analysis pointless, but I think the unemployment changes will largely be the same given they are in the same area. But I'm not sure.
[3] Only one seat has seen a larger increase in unemployment than Blackpool South, and that is Bradford West (+2.4%)...

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