Britain: Unemployment Up ... Living standards high?


Boarded up shop fronts in Rotherham in northern England underscore the rising unemployment rate but do they say much about Britain's statistically high standard of living?


Christopher Furlong

If the euro zone crisis has proven anything it is that statistics and other numerical data can be used to prove any point ... but not necessarily give you the truth about how good or bad the economy is in a given country.

For example, unemployment in Britain rose to a 17 year high according to the most recent figures published today. The official unemployment rate is now 8.3 percent.

Break out numbers within that total: Unemployment among women is at a 23 year high and youth unemployment is 1.02 million, a record.

At the same time this grim report was published, a report was released by Eurostat, the EU's official statistical body. It says Britain has the second highest standard of living in the EU. Luxembourg is first. Germany is third

Hurrah! The Brits never beat Germany at anything meaningful, like the World Cup, so to win on standards of living sounds great and the report is making headlines this morning.

But there are some caveats. Eurostat is measuring something called "active individual consumption" not per capita GDP. On that measure the UK is in 10th place.

AIC includes things that are consumed but not necessarily purchased by a household like government services. In Britain that includes things like education and health care, paid for by taxes but free at the point of provision.

But as I said, numerical data have only a vague relationship to the truth. Eurostat's statistical mavens should spend a couple of days in Rochdale outside of Manchester - where even McDonald's has shut up shop - to see if British living standards are really ahead of Germany's.

BTW, if you are curious to know who has the lowest living standards in the EU, it's Bulgaria - great beaches and lovely skiing there, though.