Boom time for British workers: are nine out of 10 jobs going to Brits?

22 January 2014

"The Employment Minister insisted that 'nine out of 10 jobs' are now going to Britons."

Daily Mail, 22 January 2014

Immigration and jobs have dominated the early political bouts of 2014, with both coalition ministers and their Labour shadows vying to catch the public's eye with pledges to reform the employment rights of recent migrants.

Employment Minister Esther McVey is the latest to tackle the issue, telling the Mail that 90% of jobs are currently being filled by British nationals.

The claim echoes one made by Ms McVey's boss at the Department for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith and Home Secretary Theresa May in the same newspaper two days previously, where the pair wrote that:

"The latest data shows that of the rise in employment over the past year, over 90 per cent went to UK nationals."

A look at the most recent employment data shows that Mrs May and Mr Duncan Smith are correct: there were 376,000 more people in work between July and September 2013 (the most recent period for which there is data) than there were a year previously, with British nationals accounting for 348,000 - 92.6% - of this rise.

However this isn't quite the same as what Ms McVey said (as quoted by the Mail), and it isn't necessarily the case that nine out of 10 jobs are going to Brits.

Firstly, instead of measuring jobs, the figures show the change in employment. One person can have more than one job: that's why there are 30 million people in employment but as many as 32.5 million workforce jobs.

But perhaps more importantly, what these figures actually show is the net change in people in work: the difference between the number that have found jobs and the number that have left work.

The reason this causes difficulty for Ms McVey's claim is best illustrated by something her boss draws attention to in his article, where he and the Home Secretary point out that:

"In just five years between 2005 and 2010, for every British person who fell out of work, almost two foreign nationals gained employment."

Between the beginning of 2005 and the election, the total number in work rose by 266,000. However this masks very different trends for foreign-born and UK-born workers: over the same period, 499,000 Brits left the labour market, while 764,000 foreign-born workers joined it. In Ms McVey's terms, this would mean that foreign-born workers took 287% of 'new jobs', clearly an impossibility.

We haven't been shy about pointing out this misunderstanding in the past, and have even asked the Office for National Statistics to include a note of explanation to accompany the figures to guard against this inaccuracy, so we hope that the mistake can be quickly and easily put right.

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