Numbers ‘in work’ not yet back to pre-pandemic levels

25 November 2021
What was claimed

There are now more people in work than there were before the pandemic began.

Our verdict

Not quite. There are more payrolled employees, but the total number of people in paid work, including the self-employed, is below the level seen just prior to the pandemic.

“There are now more people in work in this country [...] than there were before the pandemic began.”

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson claimed that there are more people in work now than there were before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Number 10 told Full Fact the Prime Minister was referring to the number of UK workers on employer payrolls which was 29.3 million in October 2021, above the 29 million in February 2020, before the start of the pandemic.  

However, the number of workers on employer payrolls doesn’t include everyone in work. Notably it excludes the self-employed, the number of whom has fallen from 5 million just before the pandemic to 4.3 million as of the third quarter of 2021.

Other data from the Office for National Statistics, which includes all people in paid work in the UK, shows the figure is still about half a million below the level just prior to the pandemic. It has gone from about 33 million between December 2019 and February 2020 to 32.5 million in the latest figures from July to September 2021.

The proportion of working-age people in employment is also lower than it was in early 2020, falling from 76.6% to 75.4% in this period. 

So although the numbers are fairly close, it is not correct to say that there are now more people in employment than there were before the pandemic began. 

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.