MP’s claim about rising unemployment in the West Midlands is wrong

Published: 11th Sep 2019

In brief

Claim

Unemployment in the West Midlands Combined Authority has risen by 25% in a year.

Conclusion

Incorrect. The unemployment rate in the area decreased from 6.7% to 5.9% between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

“Unemployment up 25% since last year.

“ONS Claimant count in the WMCA (West Midlands Combined Authority) Area.”

Liam Byrne MP, 10 September 2019

Labour MP and candidate for West Midlands Metro Mayor, Liam Byrne, claimed on Twitter that over the past year, unemployment in the West Midlands Combined Authority increased by 25%.

This is incorrect, in fact unemployment has fallen.

The latest data shows the unemployment rate fell in the area from 6.7% to 5.9% between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people as a percentage of all ‘economically active’ people. ‘Economically active’ is statistical speak for people who are either in work or who want to be.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) covers seven councils in the West Midlands, and has a single mayor, with their powers covering areas including economic growth, transport, housing and skills and jobs.

Where does the 25% claim come from?

The 25% figure is based on the change in the number of people claiming certain benefits, known as the “claimant count”.

Across the seven councils of the WMCA, the claimant count increased by 26% between August 2018 and August 2019.

The Claimant Count is not a good measure of unemployment. The statistical release that includes the claimant count states clearly at the top: “As Universal Credit Full Service is rolled out in particular areas, the number of people recorded as being on the Claimant Count is therefore likely to rise.”

In 2017 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) wrote: “The Claimant Count measures the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits.

“Prior to 2013, the Claimant Count was measured using claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance.

“In 2013 a new service, Universal Credit, which will replace a number of means-tested benefits, including the means-tested element of Jobseeker's Allowance, began to be rolled out…

“Universal Credit is designed so that a broader span of claimants is required to look for work than under Jobseeker's Allowance. This means that once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, the Claimant Count is likely to be higher than it would otherwise be under Jobseeker's Allowance.

It continued: “We believe the Claimant Count may now be providing a misleading representation of changes in the UK labour market.”

This isn’t the first time since the ONS made this statement that Mr Byrne has used the Claimant Count to talk about unemployment. Given the guidance from the ONS, it’s inappropriate for him to continue doing this.

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