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.”

UPDATE: Since this piece was first published, the Prime Minister has continued to make the claim that there are more people in work than there were before the pandemic began, despite Full Fact writing to Mr Johnson and asking him to correct the record. 

The figures in this piece were superseded by new data published on 18 January 2022, although the pattern remained the same. The number of payrolled employees continued to grow past its pre-pandemic level to 29.5 million as of December 2021. The total number of workers, including the self-employed, was 32.5 million as of September-November 2021, around 598,000 below its pre-pandemic level. 


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. 

Update 13 January 2022

This piece has been updated with the latest figures as of 13 January 2022.

Update 18 January 2022

This piece has been updated with the latest figures as of 18 January 2022.

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Boris Johnson to request a correction regarding this claim. We did not receive a substantive response.

He has also been told this claim is incorrect by the UKSA and OSR

Boris Johnson stated a commitment to correcting the record on this when giving evidence to the Liaison Committee, but this has not happened. When the Chair of the Liaison Committee wrote to Mr Johnson asking him to provide corrections to the record, he did not do this and instead referenced a written answer to a parliamentary question on employment, which he claimed clarified his previous answers about employment levels in the UK.

He has still not corrected the official record.

It’s not good enough.

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