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Fact check: UK Government claim about employment levels is false

All eyes have been on the UK’s employment levels since Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic hit the economy in quick succession.

Claiming they were rallying to protect the impact of Covid-19 lockdown measures on the job market, Westminster introduced policies such as  the job retention scheme to curb staff cuts amid the health crisis.

Now that Scotland and the rest of the UK has removed most of the lockdown measures as it moves into the next phase of dealing with the virus, cabinet ministers — including Boris Johnson himself — have claimed employment levels are not only stable, but that the number of people employed is now at a higher level than before the Covid-19 pandemic began. 

On Tuesday, the UK government’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, told BBC Breakfast that employment figures weren’t just healthy, but the number of people employed now was “at an even higher rate than pre-covid.

Speaking to the national broadcaster, he claimed: “It is good to see that we have now got employment at an even higher rate than pre-Covid.”

Ferret Fact Service looked into this claim, and found it to be false. 

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The claim: Employment is at a higher rate than pre-Covid.

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) employment figures from December 2019-February 2020, before any Covid-19 cases were reported in the UK, the employment rate was estimated at 76.6 per cent, which was a record high.

This totalled 33.07 million people in employment, according to the ONS

On the same day Lewis made the claim, the ONS published employment figures for the first three months of 2022.

The UK’s employment rate was estimated at 75.7 per cent between January-March 2022, making the employment rate 0.9 per cent lower than the period ending February 2020. 

Early estimates for April 2022 said 29.5 million people were in employment, meaning 504,000 less people are employed now compared to pre-pandemic levels.

In a statement on the findings, ONS’s director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “Total employment, while up on the quarter, remains below its pre-pandemic level. Since the start of the pandemic, around half a million more people have completely disengaged from the labour market.”

The number of vacancies in Feb-April also rose to a new record of 1.2m, up 33,700 on the previous quarter and 499,300.

The nuts and bolts

While the claim may not stack up, the ONS said some records were broken during the latest report. 

There were fewer unemployed people during the first quarter of 2022 than there were job vacancies for the first time since records began. Unemployment is at its lowest rate since 1974, equivalent to 3.7 per cent. 

While all people in paid work, including those who are self-employed—remains 504,000 below pre-pandemic levels, there are 530,000 more payrolled employees than in February 2020. 

Even with this figure taken into account, employment levels are still 0.2 per cent lower than before the health crisis began. 

The impact

The office of statistics regulation has written to the government regarding the claim made by Lewis and several members of the cabinet, including the Prime Minister himself.

Ed Humpherson, the director general for regulation, wrote that it was “disappointing” that “some earlier statements” made by the government “continued to refer to payroll employment as if describing total employment, despite contact from our office and from others.”

Ferret Fact Service verdict: False

A comparison of current employment figures to the latest available statistics pre-pandemic show that there are 504,000 less people employed than there were in February 2020, just before the first case of coronavirus was recorded. The employment rate is currently 0.9 per cent lower than it was at the beginning of 2022, showing Lewis’ claim to be false. 

This claim is false

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles.

All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Go to ideas.theferret.scot, email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our Facebook group.

Photo Credit: iStock/RyanKing999

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