Britain's historically high levels of employment are not all that they seem. According to new figures, almost half the jobs created in the UK since 1997 have been in the public sector.
A study by City broker Williams de BroŽ drawing on official figures collected for the Office of National Statistics' Labour Force Survey has found that that a quarter of the UK workforce now works for the state.
The total number of state employees is now almost 7 million (6,906,922).
The research reveals that 861,231 public sector jobs were created between the summer of 1997 and the autumn of 2004, a rise of 14.2 per cent from 1997. The total of new public sector jobs created by the government is expected to top the million mark within the next 12 months.
During the same period, the overall number of people in work in the UK rose from 26,633,000 to 28,541,000 an increase of only 7.2 per cent.
The increase in public sector employment is significantly larger than the decrease in the unemployment claimant count, which has fallen by 787,000 since 1997.
Meanwhile, productivity and absenteeism rates in the public sector remain significantly worse than for the private sector.
The average civil servants took two weeks off sick last year, more than 40 per cent more than their private sector counterparts, costing the taxpayer £4bn a year - the equivalent of an extra 1p on income tax.
The Williams de BroŽ figures fly in the face of government promises to reverse Britain's bureaucratic bloat and reduce public sector waste.
They also come just days after consultants Watson Wyatt revealed that the cost to the taxpayer of meeting Britain's public sector pension liabilities has reached £690 billion and is rising at a rate of £35 billion a year, largely due to the same increase in numbers.
The figures also reveal that three-quarters of new recruits to the public sector - 669,987 in total - have been female. This means that an extraordinary one in three British women Ė almost 4.5 million - now work in the public sector.
In contrast, the proportion of men has barely changed since 1997, with the proportion of the public sector male workforce remaining at almost 16 per cent of the total male workforce.
Telling, the figures also suggest that most of the new jobs created were in administrative or other non-frontline roles. The government claims to have created 144,500 new doctors, nurses, teachers, police and community support officers. But this leaves a further 716,731 jobs that politicians appear less keen to shout about.
David Smith, chief economist at Williams de BroŽ and the author of the research, said: "The rise in the public sector workforce is even greater than we previously thought.
"Brownís claim to be going on an economy drive and to be cutting unnecessary jobs has had no impact on the figures."