What can official employment statistics tell us? UK Statistics Authority Chair rebukes David Cameron

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So, David Cameron claimed in a Daily Telegraph  article that “while most new jobs used to go to foreign workers, in the past year more than three quarters have gone to British workers”, presumably due to the Coalition’s immigration policy.

Except no, not really. All that the figures from the Office for National Statistics (that Cameron is basing his claims on) are telling us is that UK nationals  made up 76% of the increase in the number of people in work last year. Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, offered a detailed rebuttal of the PM’s use of data; which I believe anyone using official stats to make use of data to make a public policy point would benefit from reading.

So, let’s see:

Sir Andrew says that: “The latest figures 2 from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that over the period between January to March 2013 and January to March 2014, the net change in the number of UK nationals in employment, as a proportion of the net change in the total number of people in employment, was 76 per cent”.

What the stats look at is not how many new jobs are created and whom they go to, or even how many people became employed,  but rather the net change in the number of people in employment: or, in more user-friendly language, the total number of people who move into employment (from unemployment, education, care of dependants, ill health etc., or moving from a different country) minus the total number of people who move out of employment (to unemployment, retirement, care of dependants, moving to a different country etc.)

work stats

Now, if we look at the table above, we see that over the 2013 to 2014 interval, there were 741,000 more people who moved into employment than who moved out of employment. Namely, there were 563,000 more UK nationals who moved into employment than who moved out and 178,000 more non-UK nationals who moved into employment than who moved out.

This means that UK nationals account for 76% of the net change in the total numbers of employment; which is not quite the same as “three quarters of all new jobs have gone to British workers”.

So, Sir Andrew Dilnot says, “What it is possible to say from the published official statistics is that:

-> over the past five years, the total number of people in employment is estimated to have increased from about 29 million to just over 30 million

chart2

-> The majority of people in employment are UK
nationals (about 91 per cent).

-> Over the past five years, the level of employment among UK nationals was estimated to have risen by about 0.9 million, to 27.6 million, a rise of 3 per cent. Over the same period, the number of non-UK nationals in employment increased by about 0.4 million, to 2.8 million, a rise of 18 per cent.

chart3-> Over the past five years, the employment rate for UK nationals has been consistently higher than the employment rate for non-UK nationals”

chart4

What this data cannot do is show how many jobs were newly created and for whom. Or support the assertion that “ most new jobs used to go to foreign workers“.

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