A Short Overview of Employment in the UK, April 2019

The Office for National Statistics offers some optimistic analysis:

  • The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.1%, higher than for a year earlier (75.3%) and the highest figure on record.
  • The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%; it has not been lower since November 1974 to January 1975.
  • The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at 20.7%, lower than for a year earlier (21.2%) and the lowest figure on record.
  • Excluding bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.4%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.
  • Including bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.5%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.

Estimated employment rates for both men and women have been generally increasing since early 2012. Estimates for November 2018 to January 2019 show 32.71 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 473,000 more than for a year earlier. This estimated annual increase of 473,000 was due mainly to more people working full-time (up 424,000 on the year to reach 24.12 million). Part-time working also contributed with an increase of 49,000 on the year to reach 8.60 million.

Pay and Productivity

Employment Minister Alok Sharma said: "While the global economy is facing many challenges, particularly in sectors like manufacturing, these figures show the underlying resilience of our jobs market - once again delivering record employment levels."

ONS deputy head of labour market Matt Hughes said: "The labour market remains robust, with the employment rate remaining at a record high and vacancies reaching a new record level.

In line with recent trends, the majority of those entering work were previously inactive (students, looking after home, long-term sick etc.).

The demand for labour continues to bolster wage growth. Real wages increased by more than 1% per year, better than in recent years although about half the rate of the pre-crisis era.

There is little sign of Brexit uncertainty hitting hiring as yet, but demand in the labour market tends to lag significantly behind changes in output. A Brexit effect may weaken employment growth in the next output of official data.

Productivity - output per hour - was down by 0.2% in the fourth quarter of 2018 versus a year previously, as output rose more slowly than employment. Continued low productivity could affect wage growth in the longer term.

Earnings and Skills

On earnings, Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: "With surplus labour extremely scarce and job vacancies rising to a new record high, workers are having more success in obtaining above-inflation pay increases.”

Suren Thiru, Head of Economics at the British Chambers of Commerce said: “The increase in the number of vacancies to a new record high confirms that labour and skills shortages are set to remain a significant drag on business activity for some time to come, impeding UK growth and productivity."

Posted: Wednesday 10 April 2019


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