The claim

“There are 50,000 more women in work than there were at the time of the election”
David Cameron MP, Prime Minister’s Questions, 12 October 2011


“Women’s unemployment is at its highest level since 1998”
Ed Miliband MP, in response

The background

Unemployment has never been higher among 16-24 year olds, but Ed Miliband only had one thing on this mind today: the female voter.

Womens’ approval of Labour since the election has climbed across the board, particularly among young women and skilled manual workers. According to pollsters Ipsos Mori, approval for Labour is up 33 per cent among 18-24 year old women, and up 17 per cent among skilled working women.

Losing the support of women has already been flagged up as “the problem” by Number 10. A leaked memo last month noted that “women are significantly more negative about the government than men”.

And it’s these working women that could prove key in swing seats. David Cameron argues that there are 50,000 more women in work than the time of the election, but Mr Miliband maintains that things haven’t been this bad since the Conservatives were last in government. Who’s right?

The analysis

According to today’s official statistics for the last quarter, June to August 2011, there are now 1.06m UK women aged 16-64 out of work.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed to FactCheck that this is indeed the highest number since February-April 1988, when there were 1.063m unemployed women.

The ONS’s stats show that in the past year, 5 per cent more women are unemployed than a year ago and employment has flatlined at zero per cent. How does this add up? Because the total number of working-aged women looking for jobs has risen.

This is how Mr Cameron manages to pull off his defence that there are now 50,000 more women working than there were since the election.

Actually, it’s 54,000 – but what he failed to mention, is that over the same period, the number of unemployed women jumped by 96,000.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said the numbers have risen because the population has risen – and the ONS data indeed shows 107,000 more women are of working age now than at the time of the election.

But what’s interesting is that the number  “economically active” – ie those wanting to work – has jumped over the same time period by 147,000.

The ONS told FactCheck that one explanation could be that women who might have been comfortable not working last year, now feel they need a job.

The verdict

Mr Cameron had to do some serious cherry picking with the stats today. There are 54,000 more women in the workforce than since the election, but he failed to mention that women’s unemployment has jumped by 96,000 over the same period.

The population rise has skewed the figures, and it was misleading of the PM to give the impression women’s unemployment wasn’t on the rise. The employment rate for women has fallen since the election, from 52.9 per cent to 52.6 per cent.

Mr Miliband meanwhile is right, women’s unemployment is at its highest level since 1988 . But will it make Labour more attractive to the fairer sex?

By Emma Thelwell