The claim

“These figures are disappointing but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that since the election there are 500,000 more jobs in the private sector and employment overall, there are more people – 300,000 more in work than there were a year ago.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister’s Questions, 14 September 2011

The background

The PM battled to explain the grim news today that unemployment has suffered its largest quarterly increase in two years,  jumping by 80,000 between May and June.

As he looked to private sector jobs growth for salvation, Mr Cameron was lambasted by Ed Miliband who said: “His claim, and the Chancellor’s central claim – that you can cut the public sector and the private sector would make up the difference – isn’t happening.”

Back in November, George Osborne told the Commons that based on forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), private sector job creation would “far outweigh” the job losses in the public sector.

Indeed, 35 leading businessmen, including Marks & Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose, backed the Chancellor in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

They wrote: “The private sector should be more than capable of generating additional jobs to replace those lost in the public sector.”

Who’s right? FactCheck digs out its calculator.

The analysis

The claim that more than 500,000 private sector jobs have been created in a year is one of Mr Osborne’s favourite, but to make it work after today’s figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Mr Cameron had to stretch beyond the year, further back to the second quarter of 2010.

Why? Because during that quarter, the net change in private sector jobs was a huge +311,000.

Number 10 told FactCheck that since the end of the first quarter last year (March 31st), 575,000 new private sector jobs have come on stream.

And if Mr Cameron had stuck to that, he’d have been on the money. But he specifically said “since the election”.

There’s the catch – Q2 of 2010 straddled the election, covering 1 April to June 30th.

In the year since then, the private sector job market has only grown by just 264,000 jobs. For Mr Cameron’s 500,000 claim to hold fast, he’d need to prove that 236,000 jobs were created between May 6 and June 30.

The ONS doesn’t break the numbers down month by month. But after much hassling from FactCheck, the ONS pointed us to the only set of figures that give any indication of the pattern of job creation over that quarter.

These are “experimental” labour force figures that the ONS produces, but doesn’t put its name to. And what they show is a massive rise in overall employment of 129,000 in April 2010, but a drop of 89,000 in June.

Even if we were incredibly generous to the PM, and split the jobs across the three months evenly, he’d still be some way off the 500,000 mark.

All of which leaves very little to support the idea that the private sector is “far outweighing” public sector losses.

Today, Mr Miliband pointed out: “For every two jobs being cut in the public sector, less than one is being created in the private sector.”

And he’s right – in the last quarter, 111,000 public sector jobs were lost and only 41,000 private sector jobs were created.

Year-on-year, the figures barely break even. Public sector jobs are down 240,000, and the private sector is up just 264,000 in the year to the end of June 2011.

This proves the second half of Mr Cameron’s claim wrong – employment overall has only risen by 24,000 in the last year, not by 300,000 as he claimed.

The verdict

Mr Cameron had to change the goalposts today to make a dismal set of stats seems brighter, but even his best efforts fell flat.

The PM was wrong about 300,000 jobs being created in a year – today’s year-on-year figures show that overall employment has risen by just 24,000 in the year to the end of June 2011.

And as for creating half a million private sector jobs since the election, Mr Cameron had to stretch the year out – to include the crucial second quarter of 2010 during which 311,000 jobs were created.

The problem is that the general election came amid Q2, and there are no monthly figures for it – so Mr Cameron can’t prove how many of the jobs came after he swept into Number 10 or how many came before.

What’s worse, the evidence suggests that by far the biggest jump came in April – during Labour’s last days.

By Emma Thelwell

Update: After this FactCheck was published, Mr Miliband wrote to David Cameron accusing him of using inaccurate stats and demanding that he return to the Commons to correct them. You can read the letter here.