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Employment

Stats watchdog again warns Boris Johnson to stop misleading parliament over employment figures

The letter implores the prime minister to provide a "complete statement" on the economy to the House of Commons.

Boris Johnson in parliament for prime minister's questions on Wednesday February 23

Boris Johnson repeated the incorrect claim at PMQs for the seventh time. Credit: Parliament.tv

Boris Johnson has been corrected by the official statistics watchdog for a second time in less than a month, urging him to stop repeating false employment claims in parliament. 

This is the seventh time the prime minister has publicly repeated the false claim that there are more people in work than there were before the pandemic. 

This statistic was labelled “misleading” by the Office for Statistics Regulation, as it refers only to the increase in the number of people on payrolls, failing to convey the large drop in number of people who are self-employed

Johnson claimed that the “single best thing” the government has done to address the cost of living crisis is “making sure that we have millions more people into work.”

“There are 430,000 more in employment now than there were before the pandemic began,” he told the House of Commons during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. 

The statistics watchdog first got involved on February 1 when it sent a letter to Downing Street confirming the claim was incorrect.

In his second letter of intervention, sent on February 24, Sir David Norgrove wrote: “it is wrong to claim that there are now more people in work than before the pandemic began: 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.”

He continued: “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.”

Norgrove said he hopes the prime minister “will agree that public trust requires a complete statement of this important measure of the economy.”

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Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle was widely criticised online for shutting down a question from Labour MP Imran Hussain on Islamophobia, and telling former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas to hurry up in her question to the PM on Russian interference in British politics. He has not intervened when Johnson has repeated false employment claims.

While it is true that there are more payrolled employees at present than in March 2020, “the total number of people in paid work, including the self-employed, is below the level seen just prior to the pandemic,” independent fact checking organisation Full Fact has said. 

Full Fact first highlighted the incorrect figures in November 2021, before writing to statistics watchdog the OSR in January 2022. 

The prime minister is required by the ministerial code to correct errors on the official record, however Johnson has not done this despite numerous requests from Full Fact.

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