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WMN opinion: Good news at last for the Westcountry on jobs and wages

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 17, 2014

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The fall in the number of jobless in the South West – the best improvement in unemployment of any area of Britain – is excellent news by any measure.

And with rates of pay now outstripping inflation for the first time in four years it is time to begin – cautiously, admittedly – to start looking ahead to better times.

But if the headline figures are good, there are still plenty of people for whom things are looking far less rosy.

The gap between those in work and seeing a modest improvement in their standards of living and those out of a job and feeling the effects of tighter rules on welfare benefits, is said to be widening.

The coalition’s efforts to get welfare claimants into work and reduce the cost of benefits are justified. But as the economy stutters back into life and all the changes work through there are inevitably some casualties.

That’s why it is not quite time yet to declare the downturn over and done with.

Whether or not church leaders’ and charity organisers’ warnings about a big rise in the number of people using food banks is a real indicator of rising poverty levels must be questionable. If the official figures tell us the numbers in work are up by 75,000 in the South West in the three months to February – with every likelihood that things have improved still further since – then the numbers for those in need of help to put a meal on the table will, surely, soon begin to decline.

There will, of course, be fevered debates in the months ahead about whether or not George Osborne and the Conservative-led policies to build a recovery can be credited with this upturn or whether it is simply a part of the natural cycle that says boom, relatively speaking, follows bust.

Already Labour has tried to pour cold water on the upbeat figures insisting after four years of prices rising faster than inflation there is a lot of ground to make up.

That’s true, of course. But it is the direction of travel that the Government and particularly the Tories will seize upon.

And there will be particular rejoicing, in the Tory and Lib Dem ranks, about the fact that the South West seems to be leading the way out of recession.

In the past our region has been the first to catch a cold when hard times strike and the last to throw off the sniffles as things improve.

It is not easy to say, at this stage, why that might have changed. But this is a permanent indication of better times ahead for the South West, then it is very welcome.

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