Unemployment in the UK is currently low by historic standards

14 December 2022
What was claimed

Twelve years of Conservative government has left Britain with high unemployment.

Our verdict

This is misleading. It’s hard to say what level of unemployment can objectively be called “high”, but the current rate is very low by historic standards.

Twelve years of the Tories has left Britain with falling wages and high unemployment.

The shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves tweeted on Tuesday that Britain had falling wages and high unemployment.

It is true that real wages (meaning, after inflation is taken into account) are currently falling, as was reported in the Sky News article that Ms Reeves shared in the same tweet.

But it is misleading to say that Britain currently has “high unemployment”. It’s difficult to know  what level should be considered “high”, as it’s a subjective description with no set definition we can find. But the latest UK unemployment rate, for the three months centred on September 2022, is 3.7%, which is slightly higher than the previous three measurements, but very low by historic standards.

The unemployment rate has been 3.8% or lower throughout 2022. Before this year, the last time it was below 3.8% was in November 1974.

The latest level is less than half the 7.9% rate in May 2010, when the Conservatives took office in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people aged 16 or over as a percentage of the total number of people who are employed or unemployed.

Someone is unemployed if they are either out of work, but looking for and available to start work, or out of work but with a job they are starting in the next two weeks. As such, it excludes people defined as “economically inactive” because they are neither looking for work (for example, people who are retired) nor ready to start working.  

The total number of people in the UK aged over 16 who were unemployed in September was about 1.25 million. Again, before 2022, the last time it was lower was in the 1970s. 

The UK also has a lower unemployment rate than the OECD average, which was 4.9% in September. The OECD (or Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) is a group of rich countries, which makes them broadly comparable to the UK.  

Ms Reeves’s tweet was shared by the Labour Party, and by several other Labour MPs. Some other Twitter users, including the Conservative MP Brendan Clarke-Smith, have also pointed out that it was misleading.

Full Fact contacted Ms Reeves and the Labour Party for comment, but did not receive a response before publication. 

Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew

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After we published this fact check, we contacted Rachel Reeves to request a correction regarding this claim.

Ms Reeves did not respond.

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