The claim

“The unemployment of women went up by 24 per cent under Labour”

Nick Clegg, Prime Minister’s Questions, 14 March 2012

The background

With the PM off charming the Americans, it was left to Nick Clegg to brave the news that women accounted for almost 80 per cent of the rise in unemployment in the last three months.

Some 22,000 of the 28,000 that joined the ranks of the unemployed between November last year and January were women.

In the last year, the number of unemployed women has climbed by 85,000 or 8 per cent, to 1,126,000.

The government was accused by the Trades Union Congress of being the most “female-unfriendly” in living memory, and Harriet Harman harangued Nick Clegg in the Commons – claiming that female unemployment was “coming down when we left”.

With the Deputy Prime Minister throwing more statistics into the mix, FactCheck wades in.

The analysis

Well Ms Harman was wrong – the rate of unemployment for women 6.2 per cent when Tony Blair took office, and 7 per cent when his successor left Number 10.

Although Labour dragged it down to as little as 4.3 per cent during 2005, the rate was on its way up from then onwards; breaking the 6.2 per cent barrier in 2009.

So where did Mr Clegg get his 24 per cent from? He was obviously not talking about the change in the rates mentioned above – as that’s an increase of 13 per cent.

His office hasn’t got back to us yet, but we think he was talking about the change in the number of unemployed women – which is rather misleading.

Why? Over Labour’s 13 years the population went up – pushing the number of women aged over 16 up by around 1.8m to 25.5m.

During that time, more women wanted to join the workforce than before.

As a spokesman for the Work Foundation, a think tank, told FactCheck: “Under Labour women became much more economically active; whether it was changes in attitude or child care, there were more women (in work).”

The number of women in employment climbed from 12m to 13.5m under Labour; while the number of unemployed women also increased – from 792,000 to 1,015,000.

Nick Clegg wasn’t far off then; that’s rise of 28 per cent.

But what those figures really show is that under Labour, the number of unemployed women increased by 223,000 – but the number of employed women was more than six times that at 1.5m.

And if you looked the rates – which are a far better indicator – the rate of unemployment rose 0.8 per cent to 7 per cent; and the rate of employment climbed by 1.5 per cent to 69 per cent.

The verdict

Mr Clegg’s attempt to bring Labour’s record into the mix wasn’t a huge success. We’re not quite sure where he got his 24 per cent from; but as it’s way off the rate change – we are assuming he was talking about the change in the number of unemployed women.

On that, he wasn’t far off – the number of unemploymed women increased by 223,000 or 28 per cent under Labour.

But the number of women in employment jumped by around 1.5m over the same period thanks to the rise in population and more women wanting to join the workforce.

This means that under Labour, the rate of unemployment for women climbed 0.8 per cent, and the rate of employment rose 1.5 per cent.

We’d say that’s not a killer line of defence.

Instead, it’s interesting to note that one of the main reasons women are being clobbered on the jobs market right now is because they make up a huge 70 per cent of public sector administration, education and health jobs – which suffered almost 200,000 job cuts in 2011.

By Emma Thelwell