‘Misleading impression’ – statistics watchdog scolds PM over unemployment claims

Letter from UKSA head is the second time in a month Boris Johnson has been rapped for promoting false claims

Credit: EU Estonian Presidency/CC BY 2.0

The UK Statistics Authority has admonished the prime minister for making false claims for the second time in less than a month.

Sir David Norgrove, the head of UKSA, said Boris Johnson had wrongly claimed at Prime Minister’s Questions last week that there are now more people in employment than there were before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, there are around 600,000 fewer people in work now than there were at the start of the coronavirus crisis, comparing December 2019-February 2020 with October-December 2021.

But Johnson claimed there are now 420,000 more people in employment than there were before the pandemic began. 

Norgrove said it is “wrong” to claim that there are now more people in work than before the pandemic began as the increase in the number of people who are on payrolls is “more than offset by the reduction in the number of people who are self-employed”.

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“If, as seems to be the case, your statement referred only to the increase in the number of people on payrolls, it would be a selective use of data that is likely to give a misleading impression of trends in the labour market unless that distinction is carefully explained,” he added.

Norgrove said this distinction had been highlighted by the ONS, when it published the latest labour market figures, as well as in the media, in parliament, and in a letter sent on 1 February by UKSA’s director general for regulation to No.10’s chief analyst.

The PM made similar incorrect claims on employment stats at PMQs in November and January last year, without correcting the record. 

The ministerial code states: “It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.  Ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister.”

Earlier this month, Norgrove criticised the PM and other ministers for falsely stating that crime had gone down by 14% when it had actually risen by 14%. Johnson omitted fraud and computer misuse from the figures to arrive at the 14% reduction statistic.

But Norgrove said Johnson did not make it clear that these crimes were excluded, and that the ONS had “quite properly” included fraud and computer misuse in total crime.


Sam Trendall

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