U.K. Pandemic Jobs Data Face Revisions as ONS Tweaks Methodology

U.K. unemployment data covering the months of the pandemic could be revised higher after the Office for National Statistics identified that restrictions to control the coronavirus led to a quirk in their collection methods.

With researchers no longer being able to knock on doors to collect data, the ONS found its survey included a higher proportion of owner occupiers, and fewer renters, than before the crisis, leading to a potentially less representative sample. As a result, past and future releases covering employment, unemployment and economic inactivity will be reweighted.

The impact of the new methodology will become clearer when the ONS publishes its latest jobs data on Tuesday. Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank, warned the changes are a “big deal” that will likely result in a higher unemployment reading.

“Back in February around 67% of households in their first interview in the LFS sample were owner occupiers and 32% were renters,” the ONS said. “But in July this was around 77% and 21%, respectively. Such a shift in tenure over this short time period is implausible, so this is evidence that the LFS is now picking up a different —- and possibly less representative -— sample.”

The U.K. jobless rate has remained stubbornly low during the crisis, rising only fractionally from around 4% before the lockdown was imposed. Bank of England officials have been cautioning that the headline numbers weren’t capturing the full scale of job losses.

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