Four million jobs created: 70% foreign workers?

Published: 12th Nov 2010

"Mr Duncan Smith said in 13 years of Labour rule, 70 per cent of the four million jobs created were taken by people from overseas." The Sun, 12 November, 2010

Background


The above statistic has been quoted in various forms in the last 24 hours, used largely as evidence that a long period of growth in the economy had benefited foreign nationals more than Brits when it came to jobs.

However this particular construction of the statistic, seemed particularly odd to Full Fact.

Sure enough we found that of those 4 million jobs, an insufficient number were in the fact-checking department of The Sun.

Four Million Jobs?

A quick look at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) information on numbers in employment will show that in the second quarter of 1997, the number of over 16s in work stood at 26,444,000 and in the first quarter of 2010 this stood at 28,933,000. So under 13 years of Labour there was an increase in employment of 2,489,000. Pretty far off the four million mark.

Even if The Sun meant to say that four million jobs were created in the Labour years with a growing economy, it would still be wrong.

Taking the high water mark in the jobs market of 29,499,000 in Q3 2008 that still only gives a rise of 3,055,000 — still nearly a million short.

So where did this missing million come from? It is worth looking at some other things Iain Duncan Smith said yesterday.

From yesterday's debate on welfare reform: "Even as 4 million jobs were created over 63 quarters of consecutive growth from one Government to the next, millions of people in Britain remained detached from the labour market."

From yesterday's Daily Mail: 'We created over four million jobs in 13 years and 70 per cent of those jobs were taken by people from overseas because people in this county weren't capable or able to take those jobs."

Clearly 63 quarters amounts to fifteen and three-quarter years rather than 13 years, and for this to be 63 quarters of growth this needs to run from the end of 1992 to 2008. At the end of this period the number of people in employment was roughly four million higher than it had been, but of course this is not 13 years, nor was it all under Labour.

The quote from Mr Duncan-Smith in the Mail is not wrong on this point. Between 1995 and 2008 there was a rise of roughly four million people in employment.

So the rise did happen over 13 years, just not 13 years of Labour as The Sun seems to have deduced from Iain Duncan-Smith's comments.

Jobs created?

Where the Secretary of State does appear to be wrong, however, is in suggesting that a proportion of the jobs created to over this period (be it 63 quarters or thirteen years) went to foreign-born workers.

Firstly, the four million figures is a net rise in the people in employment, not the number of jobs created. This may sound like mere semantics, but highlights that the figure do not show what Mr Duncan-Smith suggests they show.

Because the employment numbers are based on responses to the Labour Force Survey, they record how many people are in work, but will not measure how many jobs were created - or lost — in the economy overall during that period.

As an ONS statistician explained: "The employment figures based on the Labour Force Survey are the only breakdown we have of UK and non-UK workers.

"Those figures show the number of people in employment, which isn't quite the same as number of jobs created, as people can do more than one job.

"While there are figures for the actual number of jobs in the economy, these can't be broken down between jobs held by UK and non-UK born workers or jobs held by UK and non-UK nationals."

The problems for the Secretary of State's claim continue when one considers that for the 4 million new jobs figure to check out, the period before 1997 has to be considered.

Yet the ONS only publishes figures going back to 1997. Figures for this period do exist, we were told, but are not published due to problems with the comparability of the data.

Indeed back in 2006, when David Laws requested similar figures for 1992 onwards, the National Statistician only provided figures from 1997, because the earlier data was not comparable.

For the claim to stand up, these pre-1997 statistics are needed.

Alternatively...

It could be, of course, that 70 per cent isn't a proportion of the 4 million increase in employment since the end of 1992, but a proportion of the roughly 2.48 million increase from 1997 to the start of 2010.

Taking the Q2 figures for both 1997 and 2010 as a rough guide we can see that employment of UK nationals went up by 612,000 while the number of foreign-born workers went up by 1,871,000. Therefore over 70 per cent of the increase was accounted for by foreign workers.

Bringing this back to the claim in The Sun, it can be seen that the figures don't work together when used in this way.

If there was a four million rise in employment, this can't have been under Labour. If it does deal with a change of employment of four million, it refers to years for which no comparable information is published. Finally while a figure of over 70 per cent applies to the proportion of increased employment accounted for by foreign workers, this is not 'jobs created', and no figures exist for this.

Conclusion

This highlights once again how a claim, once widely circulated, can quickly become inaccurate.

For the reasons explained above The Sun's claim is decidedly inaccurate. Yet taking a look at what Iain Duncan Smith actually said, his claim doesn't fare much better. The only way it could turn out to be accurate is if the 13 years he was referring to were, say, 1994-2007 not 1997-2010, but if this is the case, there is a potential problem with the comparability of the data.

Likewise both are mistaken in referring to the number of jobs created — though this may be a case of the figures being lost in the rhetoric, it is nevertheless worth keeping mind the there are no figures to back up any claim regarding the number of 'jobs created' that were taken by workers of any nationality.

Without indication of what Mr Duncan Smith's reference years were, we cannot say categorically it is wrong, and therefore will not, at the moment, request a correction. It is worth noting that in his statement to Parliament the 70 per cent figure was not used.

We will, however, be writing to The Sun to make them aware of their slip up, as well as any other news outlet that used the information in this way.


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