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Record surge in redundancies pushes UK unemployment to 4.8%

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A surge in redundancies and a slump in hiring pushed UK unemployment up to 4.8 per cent in the three months to September, official data showed on Tuesday.

The figures reflect a wave of job cuts made as the government tapered wage support for workers furloughed under its Job Retention Scheme, which had been due to close at the end of October but has now been extended until the end of next March.

Redundancies climbed to a record high of 314,000 between July and September — a rise of 195,000 from the previous year and 181,000 from the previous quarter, the Office for National Statistics said. Weekly figures showed especially strong growth during the first two weeks of September — when employers had to pay more towards the cost of furloughed workers in the run-up to the scheme’s scheduled end.

Line chart of UK redundancies, total over previous three months (000s) showing redundancy levels now rival those at the peak of the financial crisis

“The government’s failure to face up to the scale of this jobs crisis in time has cost people their livelihoods,” said Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary. He called on ministers to provide urgent support for those who had lost jobs and to fund the creation of new roles through green investment.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said the figures “underline the scale of the challenge we’re facing”, adding: “I want to reassure anyone that is worried about the coming winter months that we will continue to support those affected.”

Job losses look set to climb further: the unemployment rate averaged 4.8 per cent over the three months to September, but experimental weekly figures from the ONS put it at 5.1 per cent by the end of that period.

The UK employment rate stood at 75.3 per cent in the three months to September, with 32.51m people in work — almost quarter of a million fewer than a year earlier.

The fall in employment was especially steep for young people, with a drop of 174,000 on the quarter among 16 to 24-year-olds, down to a record low of 3.52m. There was also a clear divide by gender, with men faring much worse than women. And there has been a dramatic drop in the foreign-born workforce, with the number of EU nationals working in the UK 364,000 lower than a year earlier, and the number of non-UK nationals from other countries down by 65,000.

Line chart of UK unemployment rates (% of labour force) showing young people have been hardest hit by the rise in unemployment

Despite the weakening of the labour market, unemployment remains well below the worst-case projections of the Office for Budget Responsibility, and economists said the extension of government income support would both delay and limit the damage.

Samuel Tombs, at the consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the chancellor’s change of tack on furlough had “greatly improved the near-term outlook for employment”, especially since hopes of a vaccine might now persuade companies to keep staff on their books over the winter in hopes of a recovery in demand next summer.

Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said the changes in unemployment and employment were “worrying but not catastrophic”, although the continued dearth of hiring was troubling.

He noted that the number of people starting a new job in the July to September period was even lower than it had been during the spring lockdown. “Every recovery is built on a rebound in hiring but it didn’t happen in the summer,” he said.

This lack of hiring is one reason why youth unemployment has risen much faster than the overall jobless rate, with few openings for new labour market entrants.

Business groups, think-tanks and unions say government policy is now too narrowly focused on protecting jobs, and urged ministers to do more to spur new job creation, by cutting employer taxes, or by directly funding new jobs in the green economy and public services.

The ONS data gave some early signs of the labour market starting to pick up in the autumn, but this was before the spread of local Covid-19 restrictions and the announcement of the second national lockdown.

The ONS said data from HM Revenue & Customs suggested only a slight drop of 33,000 in the number of payroll employees between September and October — although this still left the number on company payrolls at 782,000 below pre-pandemic levels.

The number of vacancies advertised climbed steadily from August to October, driven by hiring in small businesses, but it remained almost a third lower than a year ago, even at the end of this period.

Line chart of UK labour market flows, over previous three months (000s) showing in addition to job losses, hiring levels are particularly low

Annual growth in employees’ pay was stronger than the previous month — reflecting people returning to work on full pay after a period on furlough. However, it too was well below pre-pandemic levels, with annual growth of 1.3 per cent in total pay and 1.9 per cent in regular pay — the gap between the two measures reflecting lower bonuses.

And although the return of furloughed workers drove a rebound in working hours from the lows of the spring lockdown, average weekly hours were still below their level in March, and total weekly hours worked in the UK were more than a tenth below pre-pandemic levels.

“As the crisis enters its ninth month and second lockdown, job losses will continue to mount,” said Nye Cominetti, economist at the Resolution Foundation. “Crucially, this is as much about those out of work struggling to find new roles as it is about job losses.”



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'It’s more than sport – every day we are fighting for our rights to be equal’

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French pro basketball player and podcaster Diandra Tchatchouang on her role beyond the court



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Emily Dean on how allyship amplifies the female experience on film

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When I was six years old, I decided to be an artist. When I was 12, I decided to be a filmmaker. And instead of saying no, you can’t do that, or it’s not possible, my mum bought me a video camera.

After several years of working in the industry, I’m working with a female director for the first time. And it’s been such a gratifying experience. Women express leadership in different ways. Maybe you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room. But you can have great ideas.

And the best thing about being mentored by women and being a mentor to women is that make friends with women.

There’s something so powerful the women coming alongside other women, especially in a group setting. Because it means that you can and back each other up. You can support each other’s decisions, and you can amplify each other’s voices.

It’s about seeing yourself in your work. Seeing some part of yourself reflected is really gratifying. It’s also important that we speak up for female characters. I want to see girls and women on screen who have the whole cacophony of experience of what it’s like to be female.

I want to see their flaws. I want to feel their struggles. I want to see their joy. That is so important to making a character feel real. And it took me a little while to settle into myself and realise, if the characters I like to come up with are not your everyday run of the mill characters you see in animation, that’s fine. Because this is who I am.

When you walk into a story room, when you’re working on a film, you have to leave your ego at the door. I think that can be interpreted like keep your ego out of the work. But I’d also say for women who are maybe more shy that leaving your ego at the door means you walk in. And your job is to focus on what’s best for the story and for the film.

The story needs you. The film needs you, and it needs your best ideas. It won’t thrive unless you speak up.



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Crimea ‘water war’ opens new front in Russia-Ukraine conflict

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When a cyclone drenched Crimea in rainfall last month, rivers burst their banks and thousands of people in the Russia-annexed peninsula had to be evacuated from the floods.

The silver lining to the deluge was that the rains also filled Crimea’s depleted reservoirs, temporarily alleviating a crisis brought on by an extended drought and a Ukrainian blockade of the Soviet-built canal that previously provided up to 85 per cent of the peninsula’s water supplies.

Moscow’s struggle to supply Crimea’s 2.4m residents with fresh water has become a flashpoint in an undeclared war, seven years after Russian troops seized Crimea from Ukraine. An even longer conflict between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

Russia has accused Ukraine of “genocide” over the building of a concrete dam across the North Crimean Canal, in addition to the existing sandbag and earth dam that was built in 2014. Kyiv fears that Moscow is plotting a military incursion to secure water flows from the nearby Dnipro river.

Coupled with surging food prices and international isolation because of western sanctions, the water shortages threaten to undermine President Vladimir Putin’s promise of a better life for Crimeans under Russian rule.

Though state-run pollsters claim Putin remains more popular in Crimea than on average across Russia, the patriotic fervour that sent his approval ratings to record levels after the 2014 annexation has long since subsided.

Map showing Ukraine and the North Crimean Canal, Crimea

“The water reserves and fields have dried up,” said Viktor, 47, a Crimean who regularly travels to Ukraine for work. “Each year it’s getting worse and worse. We didn’t have this problem before annexation,” he said, adding that most Crimeans blamed Ukraine for the crisis.

A $3.7bn bridge across the Kerch Strait linking Crimea with mainland Russia has become a conduit for trucks ferrying water for locals to take away in plastic containers. Popular Black Sea tourist resorts can turn on their taps for just a few hours a day during peak droughts, while the canal has filled with grass and weeds.

Crimea’s agricultural output has fallen owing to a lack of irrigation, making it all but impossible to grow water-intensive crops such as rice.

Construction of the canal began in 1957 after the Soviet Union transferred the arid peninsula to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to manage rebuilding after the second world war. The waterway allowed for the cultivation of arable land and helped transform Crimea into a haven for tourists.

“The canal symbolises the stupidity of the Kremlin in occupying Crimea. They didn’t weigh the consequences at a moment of electoral euphoria that was fed by their own propaganda,” said Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister in charge of reintegration policies for the occupied territories.

“Why didn’t you think about water?” he asked.

The North Crimean Canal is seen with a low level of water
The severely depleted North Crimean Canal previously provided up to 85% of the peninsula’s water supplies © Pierre Crom/Getty

Workers collect potatoes on the North Crimean Canal
Workers collect potatoes on the North Crimean Canal. Ukraine blocked the irrigation channel after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea © Pierre Crom/Getty

Russia, while pressing Ukraine to reopen the waterway, has launched a Rbs50bn ($680m) programme to bolster Crimea’s supplies, repairing crumbling infrastructure, drilling wells, adding storage and desalination capacity.

Russian prosecutors last week filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights accusing Ukraine of “flagrant violations” over the issue. Crimea’s governor plans to file a separate complaint demanding up to Rbs1.5tn in compensation.

“Kyiv has essentially used Crimea’s infrastructure dependence on Ukraine, which came about in the Soviet era, as a weapon of mass destruction against all Crimeans. The water blockade is an act of state terrorism and ecocide, but the international community is failing to notice the Kyiv regime’s crimes,” Sergei Aksyonov, the peninsula’s governor, said in written comments to the Financial Times.

Reznikov said Russia, as the occupation force, was responsible under the Geneva Conventions for securing water and other basic needs for local the population. Ukraine has filed its own multi-billion-dollar claims against Russia, citing losses caused by what it describes as an illegal land grab.

With tensions rising, Russia deployed tens of thousands of troops and advanced weapons to Crimea this spring, as well as to the border of the two breakaway eastern regions where Moscow-backed separatists have battled government troops into an eighth year.

Col Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s army intelligence unit, said Russia was looking to seize the canal as well as adjacent territory to connect Crimea with the breakaway regions. Russian troops could advance on Nova Kakhovka, the Dnipro river town where the canal begins.

Some Crimean Tatars, an indigenous ethnic group whose members largely opposed Russia’s annexation, have set up a makeshift camp near the dams to make sure the water flow does not resume.

A Crimean Tatar activist on the North Crimean Canal
A Crimean Tatar activist enters his base on the North Crimean Canal. Tatars have set up camp to make sure the water flow does not resume © Pierre Crom/Getty

A Ukraine military vehicle drives past a Soviet monument marking the entrance to Brylivka
A Ukraine military vehicle drives past a Soviet monument marking the entrance to Brylivka, a village on the North Crimean Canal © Pierre Crom/Getty

“It will be a full-scale war,” said a 55-year-old activist who gave his name as Alibaba. He said he and his fellow activists were willing to take up arms to defend the blockaded canal. “There will be nowhere to hide in these fields. Let them try,” he added.

At the Kalanchak border crossing near the new dam, Russian and Ukrainian troops have dug trench positions a few hundred meters apart.

Tensions have also flared in the Black Sea, not just with Ukraine but also with western navies. Russia fired warning shots in the path of a British destroyer sailing through contested waters off Crimea last month. Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city, is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Moscow has insisted it would not go to war over Crimea’s water supplies, even as it conceded that Ukraine was unlikely to restore them. “All these hysterical statements from Ukrainian politicians are completely baseless — they’re just stupid, aggressive propaganda aimed at inciting hatred between the Russian and Ukrainian people. There won’t be any ‘water war’,” Crimea governor Aksyonov said.

Reznikov, the Ukrainian minister, said Kyiv was ready to provide Crimea with humanitarian assistance, including drinking water, which it already does for the separatist-run eastern territories, but no request had been made.

“For Russia to admit they’re weak is very difficult . . . it would amount to an admission that they made the wrong decision,” he said.



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