Lies, damned lies and real unemployment statistics

Unemployment is falling, the Office for National Statistics tells us. They say a lot of other things as well, but that’s all we hear from the government and in the press: unemployment is falling.

Unemployment, the ONS tells us, has fallen to 2.43 million, after the largest quarterly fall since August 2000. Or, as The Guardian put it last month: “UK unemployment falling at fastest pace in a decade”. Great news, you might think.

But the ONS also reports other figures. One of those is economic inactivity in the workforce, i.e. among 16 to 64 year-olds. That figure is up 0.1% to 23.3% of the workforce. That’s right: almost a quarter of the working population, don’t work. 9.37 million people.

Of these, 2.29 million are students inactive in the labour market. So they can be knocked off the total, assuming that they are at least doing something productive.

That leaves us with 7.08 million people not working, out of a workforce of about 40 million.

[Of these, incidentally, only 1.49 million are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. You can look at this figure in one of two ways: 

  • The Daily Mail way – “5.5 million can’t even be bothered to look for a job!”
  • The Independent way – “5.5 million are being failed by the welfare state.”]

But there are also 1.21 million people who are underemployed. In other words, 1.21 million people forced to work part-time because they can’t find full-time work. This is the highest figure since records began in 1992.

So, in total, there are 8.29 million people of working age in Britain who are either out of work or unable to find full-time work. That is 20.6% of the working population, a fifth.

In August 2010, this figure was 8.12 million people or 20.2% of the workforce*.

Now you can judge for yourself whether unemployment is falling or not. Don’t just listen to the headlines, look at the figures.


April 2011: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=12
August 2010: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/lmsuk0810.pdf

*This is made up of 9.35m economically inactive; 2.3m students and 1.07m underemployed. In August, the ONS changed the way the number of economic inactive people were calculated, by raising the working age threshold for women from 59 to 64. Figures before August 2010, therefore, are not comparable with current figures.

What do you think?