PMQs follow up: unemployment and benefits

16 July 2015

There were a lot of claims about unemployment at this week's Prime Minister's Questions—too many, in fact, to fit into our weekly roundup and few as important as they initially looked.  As promised, here are our factchecks.

"...we're all concerned to see today's rise in overall unemployment…"—Harriet Harman, 15 July 2015

Unemployment has risen by 15,000.

The actual change in unemployment is probably within plus or minus 80,000 of this figure, so this isn't a statistically significant rise and the number of people unemployed might not have changed at all.

About 1.85 million people were unemployed in the latest figures.

"It's disappointing that the claimant count has gone up having fallen for so many months in a row and still being at the lowest level since 1975"—David Cameron, 15 June 2015

The claimant count—which is not the same as unemployment—has gone up, from 797,000 in May to 804,000 in June. This 804,000 is its lowest level since—well, since the month before.

But if we don't count April and May 2015, the claimant count is at its lowest level since 2008.

The claimant count rate (again, ignoring April and May 2015) is at its lowest level since 1975.

The claimant count rate isn't particularly easy to interpret. It's a measure of what proportion of the workforce (unemployed or working people) are claiming unemployment related benefits.

The problem is that not all people claiming unemployment benefits are unemployed. Some Universal Credit claimants are included who aren't required to look for work, and some working people can claim Jobseeker's Allowance.

A second problem is that the claimant count rate measures working people using the number of jobs in the economy. There are more jobs than there are working people, and this means that the claimant count rate can change just because, for example, the number of people working second jobs changes.

"long term unemployment is down" —David Cameron

Long term unemployment dropped from 623,000 to about 570,000 in the latest figures. That's people who were unemployed for over a year—the international definition used by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"youth unemployment is down" —David Cameron

The number of unemployed 16-24 year olds fell from 735,000 to about 729,000. Again, this isn't a large change.

"the rate of employment for women is at a new record high" —David Cameron

This is true but not particularly useful.

The employment rate for women aged between 16 and 64 is at a record high, but that's not solely because the labour market is getting more efficient, or the government is doing a marvellous job of encouraging women to move into work.

It's partly because the state pension age for women is rising: women are working for longer, so their employment rate is also rising.

"interestingly when you look across the last year you can actually see that all of the rise in employment in the last year has been people working full time…"—David Cameron

This is correct. Total employment is up 265,000 on the same period last year. This consists of a 272,000 increase in people working full-time, and a 7,000 decrease in people working part-time.

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