Boris Johnson again reprimanded after misleading employment claim

Boris Johnson has been formally reprimanded by the official statistics watchdog for the second time in a month after he misleadingly claimed that there are now more people in work in the UK than before the start of coronavirus.

Peter Walker 

The reproach from Sir David Norgrove, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, follows concerns he raised with Johnson at the start of February about an incorrect claim that crime levels were falling.

In his new letter to Johnson, Norgrove noted that at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday the PM had said there were now more people in employment than before the pandemic began.

However, Norgrove said, this was only the case if you considered only workers on payrolls, which was misleading, as it was more than offset by a drop in numbers of self-employed people – if you include them, the total is now 600,000 lower.

“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 told Johnson.

He added: “I hope you will agree that public trust requires a complete statement of this important measure of the economy.”

Johnson has made the same misleading claim at earlier editions of prime minister’s questions.

On 3 February, Norgrove announced that he would be writing to the offices of Johnson and Priti Patel, the home secretary, to highlight what he called a “misleading” use of crime statistics.

Speaking in the Commons, Johnson had said the government was “cutting crime by 14%”, a reference to statistics between September 2019 and September 2021, a claim echoed in a Home Office press release. However, this was only the case if the statistics excluded fraud and computer misuse, which have risen quickly over the Covid period.