Boris Johnson reproached for 'selective use of data' on unemployment

Statistics watchdog writes to PM for the second time this month after he claimed employment had risen
Boris Johnson has come under fire again from the statistics authority. ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

By Tevye Markson

28 Feb 2022

The UK Statistics Authority has admonished the prime minister for the second time this month for making false claims.

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

According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, there are around 600,000 fewer people in work than at the start of the pandemic, 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”.

“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 asin the 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 for falsely stating that crime had gone down by 14% when it had actually risen by 14%. Johnson omitted fraud and computer use from the figures to get 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.

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