Have a million private sector jobs been created since the election?

12 September 2012

The release of the latest set of employment figures this morning proved popular on the Government benches as MPs took their places for the weekly clash at Prime Minister's Questions.

PM David Cameron was particularly enamoured with one claim: that "there are a million net new private sector jobs since the election." He used the figure in no fewer than four separate responses to MPs' questions.

But is the stat a sound one?

We've seen in the past that while calculating the change in employment levels 'since the election' is popular politically, it doesn't sit easily with the data.

This is because employment figures are calculated quarterly, and the general election of May 2010 almost perfectly bisects the quarter April-June 2010. In the absence of a readily available baseline that shows the state of the labour market at the time of the election, we must use data from one of the quarters either side of polling day.

The rise in employment can vary enormously depending upon which baseline you choose. When we looked at similar claims from Mr Cameron last year, we found that the number of new private sector jobs created almost doubled if we used the earlier quarter rather than the later one.

This time around however, the PM's claim seems to check out whichever start point is used. According to the latest data, 23.9 million people held jobs in the private sector in the quarter to June 2012. This is nearly 1.1 million more people employed in the sector in the quarter to June 2010, and nearly 1.4 million more than held jobs in the quarter to March 2010.

Quarter Private sector employment
Jan-Mar 2010 22,519,000
Mar-Jun 2010 22,826,000
Mar-Jun 2012 23,896,000

However while the numbers add up, we do need to be a little careful in how we interpret them.

Anyone digging into the tables released by the Office for National Statistics will notice that these figures also come with a warning: for the first time in the quarter to June private sector employment figures included the staff of further education and sixth form corporations, who were previously treated as public sector employees.

According to the ONS, 196,000 people were recategorised as a result, meaning that "the reclassification therefore results in a large fall in public sector employment and a corresponding large increase in private sector employment between March and June 2012."

It isn't strictly true to call these jobs 'new' as the Prime Minister does, seeing as they aren't necessarily the result of an increase in employment but rather a change in the way the figures are compiled.

Whether or not this significantly impacts the accuracy of David Cameron's claim again depends upon the baseline we use to make the comparison.

If we remove these jobs from the equation, then 1.2 million people found work in the private sector between Jan-Mar 2010 and Apr-June 2012, but less than a million - 874,000 - have done so since the quarter Apr-Jun 2010.

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