By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
15 January 2013. It is a time of dodgy statistics used to support manufactured happy but unsubstantiated headlines, even by some of the news agencies the public trusts to sort out economic fact from convenient political fiction.
In the United Kingdom one such statistic is the number of new private sector jobs created this past year. Although some economists have questioned it in blog pieces, this alleged statistic is regularly cited by the Prime Minister, Party officials and even the media as an indicator that the economy may be healing. But -- as this article documents -- it is not a fact or confirmed by the very body that allegedly produced what turns out not to be a statistic at all.
The Prime Minister and members of his Party regularly and proudly tout the alleged statistic that the private sector created 1 million new jobs this past year.
The Prime Minister just last week used the 1 million new jobs figure during Prime Minister’s Questions as evidence that his government is on the right track.
BBC regularly expresses puzzlement how an economy that generated 1 million new private sector jobs in a year could flat line during that same year (and, indeed faces a third quarterly dip into recession). Despite its puzzlement BBC regularly echos the Party line - it is a hopeful indicator in the tea leaves.
Skunk in the Woodpile
There is one, major, nagging problem with this happy headline. The independent body entrusted with these sorts of things -- the Bureau for National Statistics, the very body cited by the Prime Minister, the Party and the BBC for the figures concerning new private sector jobs -- that body denies its figures support that claim.
The 1 million new jobs creative statistic is so counter intuitive in the face of the flat economy and so integral to the narrative supporting the government’s economic policies I decided to do some independent research. Attempts to do so through the media didn't provide me with answers I trusted. I submitted a FOI request to the Bureau of National Statistics.
15 January the BNS replied. The full text of their reply is found here. With respect to the 1 million new jobs created claim BNS said the following (highlighted by me for emphasis):
“The Office for National Statistics does not collect any statistics relating to the number of new jobs created. The figures published by the Office for National Statistics on private sector employment are estimates of the total number of people employed in the private sector and the net change in this number. This is not the same as the number of jobs in the private sector, as one person can have more than one job or one job can be shared by more than one person. Nor is the net change in the number of people employed an estimate of the number of jobs created. Therefore the ONS can neither confirm or deny that over a million jobs have been created in the private sector this past year. “
Why wouldn't continued use after notice of this unsubstantiated statistic constitute ministerial misconduct?
My apologies if the British media have somewhere published the BNS disclaimer and I missed it. But I did. The British public has similarly missed it. If it is tucked away in a blog or online report somewhere that is hardly “equal time” with the often and regularly repeated happy headlines albeit they may be repeated with some expression of puzzlement.
The disclaimer is clear. There is simply no basis for the happy headline that the private sector created 1 million new jobs.
Shouldn't the regular citation of this statistic -- thoroughly debunked by the BNS’s own disclaimer -- cause media to report this "statistic" as debunked by the BNS disclaimer? Wouldn't continued citation of this alleged statistic -- after notice -- be considered fraudulent? Wouldn't continued use be actionable ministerial misconduct? Seems to me that the continuing use of this “statistic” of unknown origin since BNS disavows it (and the companion speculation it proves the economy is healing and, therefore, the Coalition is on the right track) raises serious questions to answer.
I think Parliament should be asking these questions now.