PM misleads on employment figures, again

19 January 2022
What was claimed

We now have 420,000 more people in employment than there were before the pandemic began.

Our verdict

False. The total number of people in employment, including the self-employed, is 600,000 lower than before the pandemic began.

"We now have 420,000 more people in employment than there were before the pandemic began."

Boris Johnson, 18 January 2022.

In an interview with Sky News, Boris Johnson claimed, again, that there are more people in employment now than there were before the Covid-19 pandemic began. This is incorrect as the cited figures don’t include people who are self-employed. 

A commonly repeated claim

This is far from the first time the Prime Minister has made this error. Mr Johnson made similar claims at Prime Minister’s Questions on 24 November, 5 January and 12 January

Also, several Cabinet Ministers and MPs have repeated the claim, including Nadine Dorries on 13 January and Mark Spencer and Suella Braverman on 12 January. It was repeated by ITV News on 18 January

Including self-employed people, employment has fallen

When Full Fact first fact checked this claim back in November, we were told that the figure Mr Johnson used referred to the number of workers on employer payrolls. Estimates for December 2021 show there were around 29.5 million payrolled employees in the UK, around 409,000 more than in February 2020 before the start of the pandemic.

But this figure doesn’t include everyone in employment as the Prime Minister claimed. Notably it excludes the self-employed.

Data from the Office for National Statistics, which includes all people in paid work in the UK, shows the total number of people in employment, including the self-employed, is actually about 600,000 below the level just prior to the pandemic.

It has gone from about 33.1 million between December 2019 and February 2020 to 32.5 million in the latest figures from September to November 2021.

The proportion of working-age people in employment is also lower than it was in early 2020, falling from 76.6% to 75.5% in this period. 

The Prime Minister did use the statistics correctly during Prime Minister’s Questions on 19 January, saying “we have more people, more employees on the payroll now, than there were before the pandemic began,” in contrast to his previous appearances at the despatch box. 

The record still needs to be corrected

We have contacted the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and Downing Street no fewer than six times asking the Prime Minister to correct the official record with regards to his previous statements.

They have not taken the opportunity to do so. 

The Ministerial Code states: “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. 

“Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.”

Correction 31 January 2022

This article originally said the Daily Express had also made the claim being discussed, when it said “400,000 jobs have been added since the start of the pandemic”. The Express told Full Fact it was not referring to the number of people in employment, but to the increase in the number of job vacancies compared to the pre-pandemic level, which the ONS puts at 462,000.

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we wrote to the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) about this claim.

The OSR agrees it is incorrect and has written to Number 10 Downing Street about this.

We also contacted Nadine Dorries, Suella Braverman, Mark Spencer and ITV News to request corrections, they did not respond.

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