Jobcentre Plus vacancies

Written by Paul Bivand, Associate Director of Statistics and Analysis at Inclusion.

On Easter Monday, the Guardian published a series of articles on Jobcentre Plus vacancies.

It had obtained an extract of the vacancy database for 22 February through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Guardian's analysis concentrates on two issues.

First, whether the vacancies were for jobs of 24 hours or more per week – this is relevant because of the change to tax credits: the minimum number of hours of work to ensure eligibility has risen from 16 to 24 hours (although it’s a bit more complicated than that).

Second, whether the 24 hour plus jobs were temporary or permanent.

The paper’s conclusion was that only 52% of available positions were of a sufficient number of hours to meet the new 24-hour requirement over a long-term period.

If only the hours of work were analysed, the Guardian found that at least 24,000 job positions did not offer enough guaranteed hours for families to qualify for Working Tax Credit.

The data the Guardian received are available online at the Guardian datastore for others to analyse, in the form of a large, zipped, tab-separated values text file containing 112,000 records.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be posting a copy in due course. TheDWP publishes data released through freedom of information requests after three months on its ‘Information released under the Freedom of Information Act that is of wider general interest’ page.

The DWP version should contain a series of explanatory notes, which the Guardian unaccountably failed to include in their publication.

The Guardian interpreted the 112,000 records as individual vacancies. This doesn't look right. These could be vacancy orders – with potentially multiple vacancies. The difference is shown by a discussion in the NOMIS forum. One company placed 19,008 vacancies on 27 January for jobs in caring personal services. This appeared as 192 orders. These 19,008 could have been zero-hour contracts, as there are some in this occupation group in the Guardian database. The NOMIS figures for February show 283,252 live unfilled vacancies and 444,279 live vacancies. Therefore, unless vacancies fell dramatically within February, the Guardian's figures are hiding multiple vacancies.

It is unfortunate that the Guardian didn't see fit to talk to users of Jobcentre vacancy data to identify some of these wrinkles.

What does this release add that we didn't have already?

First, the hours information: the NOMIS data identifies part-time and full-time vacancies (full time defined as 30 hours or more). The detail gives a finer breakdown and enables the Guardian to identify vacancies of 24 hours or more (subject to the mis-identification of numbers of vacancies).

Second, and requiring extra work, the NOMIS releases describe vacancies as full or part time (and permanent or temporary) and give the occupation. The Guardian data enable a snapshot analysis of part-time vacancies by occupation, which we'll be looking into. No great surprises for welfare to work advisers, as we all know that part-time jobs are more common in some occupations than others, but useful additional data.

It would be nice if the NOMIS releases broke down the occupation information by whether vacancies are full time or part time. Maybe that can go on the wish list.

Labour Market Statistics from the Office for National Statistics were released on Wednesday. Inclusion's regular labour market analysis is available here.

A short blog post showing how the trends in Jobcentre Plus vacancies compare with other sources of information on the labour market will be published shortly.