Wales

More in employment but the way we work is also changing

Peter Harding used to be a senior civil servant with the Welsh government, where he was head of arts and then led a basic skills policy, earning more than £50,000 a year.

But now he is self-employed, a partner in a fine meats business, working seven days a week and with an olive oil importing business.

"We work all the time," he told me.

"At this time of year we're working most weekends, at markets right up until Christmas. We're also running our businesses and doing things during the week."

"We're not paying ourselves anything at the moment. I do get a small income from selling charcuterie for another company but we don't pay ourselves from the businesses."

He is one of those people who reflects a growing trend across the UK towards self-employment.

If you've lived through previous recessions in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s you may have been surprised not to have seen mass unemployment during this latest economic crisis.

Yes, unemployment in Wales rose to 137,000 in the three months to September 2011, a rate of 9.3%, but we have not seen the thousands added to the dole queues that we have experienced in past downturns.

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Media captionThere is an increase in the number of people who are employed and self-employed, as new figures show unemployment in Wales fell by 7,000 between June and August.

What we have seen though is a considerable fall in productivity which has lead to significant debate.

The Office for National Statistics says that if we look at the UK economy at its peak before the the downturn hit in 2008 and then at the low point that it reached in the summer of 2009 the UK's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by 6.3%.

In past recessions a fall like that resulted in a similar fall in employment.

In fact, says the ONS, the fall in employment for the same period was only 2.1%, which is why we have not seen as many redundancies in Wales as many had forecast when the true force of the recession hit.

Downturns in employment tend to lag a few months behind an economy losing momentum.

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Image caption The 1980s recession was characterised by mass unemployment

In Wales, unemployment was at its most severe between November 2009 and March 2010 when it reached 133,000 people - and 9.3% of the working population.

It then improved but hit another peak in the three months to September 2011 when it reached 137,000 people, a rate of 9.3%.

After quite a few months with little change the rate of people unemployed in Wales started to fall from April to June this year.

These latest figures for the period between June and August are significant not only because the number of people unemployed in Wales is down to 125,000 - a rate of 8.3% - but most significantly because there are 40,000 more people actually in jobs in Wales in the three months to August 2012 than in the previous quarter.

One very interesting factor is the pattern where more people are working part-time and more people who are self-employed.

They may form part of the answer as to why GDP has not mirrored employment in the most recent stage of the financial crisis.

Those people who may once have been employed full-time making goods or offering a service may now not be injecting as much value into the economy if they are working part-time or working for themselves. If they are self-employed they may well be paying themselves a lower wage or spending part of their week not generating an income but trying to win work.

Although they appear on the full-time employment figures, they may not put an equivalent value into the GDP calculations.

Peter Harding's is just one of the intriguing stories that comes from our changing economy.

While he said the business made a loss last year when it was set up with a lot of investment, turnover has been increasing dramatically this year.

"By the end of this year perhaps we'll break even, hopefully in the following financial year we'll make a decent-sized profit, employing more people and paying tax," he said.

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