Government minister made misleading claim about employment figures

17 May 2022
What was claimed

More people are in work than before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our verdict

The total number of people in employment is 504,000 people lower than before the pandemic.

"We're seeing more people in work, even than we saw before Covid."

During appearances on Sky News and BBC Breakfast this morning Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis claimed that more people are currently in work in the UK than before the pandemic.

This is false, evidenced by recently published data from the Office for National Statistics which shows that both the number of people in work and the overall employment rate remain below pre-pandemic levels.

Although there are 530,000 more payrolled employees than in February 2020, the total employment number—all people in paid work, including those who are self-employed—remains 504,000 below pre-pandemic levels. The overall employment rate meanwhile, while up on the last quarter, is still 0.9 percentage points lower than the three month period to February 2020.

In a statement accompanying the release of the data, the 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.”

When challenged on his claim by BBC presenter Sally Nugent, Mr Lewis said: “Unemployment actually is below where it was before Covid. Employment figures have got back to where they were pre-Covid”.

Although Mr Lewis’s claim about more people being in work than before Covid is false, it is true that the overall unemployment rate—that is the proportion of employed and unemployed people who are unemployedis below pre-pandemic levels by 0.2 percentage points. Total unemployment in the three months to March 2022 is down by 107,000 compared to the three months to February 2020.

Additionally, for the first time since records began there are currently fewer unemployed people than there are job vacancies.

Government ministers have repeatedly made this claim

Mr Lewis is the latest in a long line of government ministers to have misleadingly used the total payrolled employees figures to claim that the number of people in work is higher than before the pandemic.

As Full Fact has written about before, the Prime Minister has made this error on a number of occasions, along with several cabinet ministers including Nadine Dorries, Mark Spencer and Suella Braverman.

We are not the only ones to have pointed out that this is misleading, with both the chair of the UK Statistics Authority and the Office for Statistics Regulation’s (OSR) Director General for Regulation having written to 10 Downing Street to criticise the incorrect use of employment figures after we called on the OSR to intervene.

Image courtesy of Richard Townshend.

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Brandon Lewis to request a correction regarding this claim.

He did not respond. 

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