There have been quite big drops in the numbers claiming two of the big benefits claimed by people of working age.
Since February 2007, the number claiming Income Support as a lone parent has dropped by 225,000 from about 770,000 to 545,000 (early estimate August 2012). That is a fall of 29.2 per cent. It has taken five years but it is quite dramatic – a major reversal of the rising trend of the 1980s and 1990s. The drop was particularly fast in 2010.
The background to this is the change of the rules on eligibility which began in November 2008.
Meanwhile there has also been a fall in the numbers claiming Employment and Support Allowance/incapacity benefits. There has been a reduction of 160,000 since February 2007, from just over 2,660,000 to 2,500,00 (early estimate August 2012).
The background to this, of course, is the requirement on those receiving the benefits to be reassessed. The re-assessment under the current administration is about half way through. But the previous administration had previously made efforts in the same direction. The percentage drop is much more modest than the reduction in the case of lone parents at 6 per cent.
If one bears in mind these extra people who have been moved into the job market, not to mention the recession, the steadiness of the unemployment figures looks a rather better achievement than it otherwise would.
But of course these numbers are still vastly higher than they were in the early 1970s.