Labour market overview, UK: May 2020

Estimates of employment, unemployment, economic inactivity and other employment-related statistics for the UK.

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19 May 2020

The effect of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on our capacity means we have reviewed the existing labour market releases and will be suspending some publications.

This will protect the delivery and quality of our remaining labour market outputs as well as ensuring we can respond to new demands as a direct result of COVID-19. More details about the impact on labour market outputs can be found in our statement.

This is an accredited national statistic.

Contact:
Email Debra Leaker

Release date:
19 May 2020

Next release:
16 June 2020

1. Other pages in this release

Other commentary from the latest labour market data can be found on the following pages:

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2. Main points

  • The UK employment rate in the three months to March 2020 was estimated at a joint-record high of 76.6%, 0.6 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points up on the previous quarter.

  • The UK unemployment rate for the three months to March 2020 was estimated at 3.9%, 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter.

  • The total number of weekly hours worked in the three months to March 2020 was 1,040.6 million, 12.4 million hours less than the previous year.

  • In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual earnings growth was estimated to be 0.7% in total pay and 1.0% in regular pay, in the three months to March 2020, both down from a recent peak of 2.0% in the three months to June 2019.

  • There were an estimated 637,000 vacancies in the UK in February to April 2020; this is 170,000 fewer than the previous quarter and 210,000 fewer than a year earlier.

  • Earnings and employment from Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information (RTI), UK: May 2020 is also released today; this is an experimental monthly estimate of paid employees and their pay from PAYE RTI and includes a flash estimate of employment and median pay for April 2020.

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The data in this bulletin come from surveys of households and businesses. It is not possible to survey every household and business each month, so these statistics are estimates based on samples.

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3. Things you need to know

Economic commentary

Following a review of our outputs over recent months, the way we publish our labour market content is changing. From May 2020, the labour market economic commentary will no longer be published as an individual publication. Instead, economic commentary will be included in this monthly Labour market overview, see Economic commentary in Section 10.

Coronavirus and the Labour Market

Labour Force Survey estimates

Labour Force Survey estimates presented in this bulletin are based on interviews that took place throughout the period from the start of January to the end of March 2020. Consequently, most interviews relate to the period prior to the implementation of coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures. Interviews in the final week of March relate to the period following the government closure of schools, introduction of lockdown and announcement of measures aimed at protecting businesses and jobs.

Average weekly earnings

Average weekly earnings (AWE) estimates are based on the pay period that includes the last week of each month, which in March 2020 was after the implementation of coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing and lockdown measures.

Vacancies

Vacancy estimates are based on specific count dates each month; in April 2020, this was the 3 April, after the implementation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures.

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4. Employment

Employment measures the number of people aged 16 years and over in paid work and those who had a job that they were temporarily away from. The employment rate is the proportion of people aged between 16 and 64 years who are in employment.

Estimated employment rates for people aged between 16 and 64 years have generally been increasing since early 2012. Recent increases have largely been driven by increases in the employment rate for women (Figure 1).

For January to March 2020:

  • the estimated employment rate for all people was at a joint-record high of 76.6%; this is 0.6 percentage points up on the year and 0.2 percentage points up on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for men was 80.4%; this is 0.1 percentage points up on the year and 0.2 percentage points down on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for women was at a record high of 72.9%; this is 1.1 percentage points up on the year and 0.5 percentage points up on the quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the employment rate in the last week of March was broadly consistent with other weeks within the quarter. However, there was a significant increase in the numbers who were employed, but temporarily away from work. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month article.

The increase in the employment rate for women in recent years is partly a result of changes to the State Pension age for women, resulting in fewer women retiring between the ages of 60 and 65 years. However, since the equalisation of the State Pension age, the employment rate for women has continued to rise.

Estimates for January to March 2020 show a record 33.14 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 448,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly driven by women in employment (up by 369,000 on the year to a record high of 15.79 million), workers aged above 50 years (up by 313,000 to a record high of 10.76 million) and aged 25 to 34 years (up by 106,000 to a record high of 7.65 million), and full-time employees (up by 344,000 to a record high of 20.91 million).

There was a 211,000 increase in employment on the quarter. This was mainly driven by women in employment (up 185,000), workers aged above 65 years (up 124,000 to a record high of 1.42 million), employees (up 238,000 to a record high of 27.96 million), and part-time workers (up 174,000 to 8.69 million).

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5. Hours worked

Since estimates began in 1971, total hours worked by women had generally increased, reflecting increases in both the employment rate for women and the UK population. In contrast, total hours worked by men had been relatively stable because of falls in the employment rate for men, and increases in the share of part-time working, roughly offset by population increases.

Between January to March 2019 and January to March 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 12.4 million, or 1.2%, to 1.04 billion hours. This was the largest annual decrease since November 2009 to January 2010. The decrease in total actual weekly hours worked over the year was mainly driven by the decrease in men's total hours worked (down 16.0 million hours).

Average weekly hours fell by 0.8 hours on the year to 31.4 hours (Figure 2). The average weekly hours worked by men decreased 1.1 hours to a record low of 35.4 hours, while women's hours decreased 0.4 hours to 27 hours.

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that this fall was mostly caused by the decrease in hours in the last week of March, with a much smaller decrease in the previous week. In the final week of March, the total number of hours worked was around 25% fewer than in other weeks within the quarter. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month article.

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6. Unemployment

Unemployment measures people without a job who have been actively seeking work within the last four weeks and are available to start work within the next two weeks. The unemployment rate is not the proportion of the total population who are unemployed. It is the proportion of the economically active population (those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who are unemployed.

Estimated unemployment rates for both men and women aged 16 years and over have generally been falling since late 2013 but have levelled off in recent periods (Figure 3).

For January to March 2020:

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.9%; 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier and also 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.1%; this is 0.2 percentage points higher than a year earlier and also 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for women was 3.7%; this is largely unchanged compared with a year earlier and up by 0.1 percentage points on the quarter

For January to March 2020, an estimated 1.35 million people were unemployed. This is 50,000 more than a year earlier but 478,000 fewer than five years earlier. The increase on the year is the third annual increase in unemployment since May to July 2012, and it was driven by a 44,000 increase for men.

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7. Economic inactivity

Economic inactivity measures people without a job but who are not classed as unemployed because they have not been actively seeking work within the last four weeks and/or they are unable to start work within the next two weeks. Our headline measure of economic inactivity is for those aged between 16 and 64 years.

Since comparable records began in 1971, the economic inactivity rate for all people aged between 16 and 64 years has generally been falling (although it increased during recessions). This is because of a gradual fall in the economic inactivity rate for women (as seen in Figure 4). Over recent years, the economic inactivity rate for men has been relatively flat.

For people aged between 16 and 64 years, for January to March 2020:

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was a joint record low of 20.2%; this is down by 0.7 percentage points on the year and down by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for men was 16.1%; this is down by 0.3 percentage points on the year and largely unchanged compared with the previous quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for women was a record low of 24.2%; this is down by 1.1 percentage points on the year and down by 0.6 percentage points on the quarter

Estimates for January to March 2020 show 8.35 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 256,000 fewer than a year earlier and 678,000 fewer than five years earlier. The annual decrease was mainly driven by women, with 213,000 fewer than a year earlier to reach a record low of 5.04 million.

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8. Earnings growth

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The earnings estimates are not just a measure of pay rises as they also reflect changes in the number of paid hours worked and changes in the structure of the workforce, for example, more high-paid jobs would have an upward effect on earnings growth rates.

The rate of pay growth trended upwards from spring 2017. In April to June 2019, it reached 4.0% for total pay and 3.9% for regular pay, the highest nominal pay growth rates since 2008. However, since then growth has slowed. In January to March 2020, it stood at 2.4% for total pay and 2.7% for regular pay.

In real terms, annual pay growth has been positive since the three months to February 2018. This means that during that period, pay has been growing faster than inflation. Growth in real terms for both total pay and regular pay reached a recent peak of 2.0% in the three months to June 2019, before decreasing to 0.7% for total pay and 1.0% for regular pay in the three months to March 2020.

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9. Vacancies

The estimated number of vacancies in the UK fell sharply during the recession of 2008 to 2009. Since 2012, it has generally increased, reaching a record high of 855,000 in November 2018 to January 2019. For February to April 2020, there were an estimated 637,000 vacancies in the UK; this is 170,000 fewer than in the previous quarter (November 2019 to January 2020) and 210,000 fewer than a year earlier, both of which are statistically significant changes. This is the lowest total vacancies figure since there were an estimated 617,000 in January to March 2014.

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10. Economic commentary

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been a major shock to the UK economy. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)'s three-month lockdown scenario analysis forecasts a 13.0% fall in annual gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 and the unemployment rate to reach 10.0% by Quarter 2 2020, before gradually reducing to just below 6.0% by the end of 2021.

In the three months to March 2020, GDP fell by 2.0%, signalling the first direct impact of the coronavirus on the economy. The production sector fell by 2.1%, construction by 2.6% and the services sector by 1.9%.

The latest Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates published today (19 May 2020) cover the period January to March 2020, and therefore remain mostly unaffected by the impact of the coronavirus. On the quarter, employment increased 211,000 to 33.14 million. Alongside official statistics from the LFS, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) jointly published a experimental monthly flash estimate of paid employees and their pay from Pay As You Earn Real Time Information. The estimates for April 2020 indicate that the number of paid employees fell by 1.2% compared with April 2019, and fell by 1.6% when compared with March 2020. The median monthly pay grew by 2.7% in March 2020, compared with the same period of the previous year. In addition, the median monthly pay for April 2020 fell by 0.9% compared with the same period of the previous year.

In addition, the latest Vacancy Survey estimates for the period February to April 2020 show that the number of vacancies decreased by 21.0% compared with the previous quarter, showing a slump in the demand for labour. The decrease of 170,000 vacancies is the largest quarterly fall in the history of the time series. The Institute for Employment Studies' (IES) analysis of the ADZUNA vacancy data shows that the overall vacancy level decreased by 59% between the second week of March and the week ending 3 May 2020.

Further evidence of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the labour market are reflected in the ONS Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS). The survey for the period 6 April to 19 April 2020 showed that 23.0% of businesses that responded had temporarily closed or paused trading. Across all industries, 28.0% of the workforce had been furloughed under the terms of the UK government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and less than 1% of the workforce was made redundant. Workers on the furlough scheme are not at work but remain employed.

Experimental LFS weekly hours data show that seasonally-adjusted actual hours worked in the main job declined in the last two weeks of March 2020. Compared with the same period in 2019, the numbers of people who were temporarily away from work, and those who worked fewer than usual hours because of economic reasons both increased, which contributed to lower actual hours worked.

The Bank of England (BoE) Monetary Policy Report (MPR) for May 2020 covers findings from the Bank/Ipsos MORI Survey, in which over half of employed respondents reported that they were employed but not currently working, or were working fewer hours, as a result of the pandemic. Most workers said that it was a result of firm closure or lower demand. The MPR also reports that the combination of lower individual productivity and disrupted supply chains is expected to cause a fall in labour productivity on a per-hour basis. It also anticipates a larger fall in productivity per head because furloughed workers are still employed but may have zero working hours. The self-employed were most likely to report working fewer hours.

Comparing various indicators shows that the impact of the coronavirus has been felt to greater extent by certain industries. The accommodation and food services activities sector recorded the largest quarterly decrease in vacancies (negative 32,000) for the period February to April 2020 and the largest proportion of workforce being furloughed (73.0%) based on BICS Wave 3 data. The accommodation and food services activities output declined by 9.5% in the three months to March 2020, based on GDP first quarterly estimates for Quarter 1 2020.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)'s weekly management information on Universal Credit (UC) "declarations" (claims) and advances also provide an indication of performance of the labour market in terms of the unemployed and those in employment who qualify for UC. The DWP reports that, since the start of the pandemic, there have been exceptional levels of demand for UC. However, not all applicants will be eligible for benefits.

The experimental Claimant Count data, which cover claims for Jobseeker's Allowance and those claimants in the UC "searching for work" conditionality, show that there was a 69.1% increase in the number of claims between March and April, taking the level to over 2 million. The IHS Markit UK Household Finance Index for April 2020 shows that the coronavirus pandemic has caused households' perceptions of employment incomes and job security to decline.

Figures released today show that total and regular average weekly earnings growth slowed to 2.4% and 2.7% respectively in the three months to March 2020. In addition, consumption and expenditure patterns as reflected through the ONS's retail sales data in Great Britain for March 2020 changed. The initial impacts of the coronavirus on retail sales in March were a sharp fall in sales volume (5.1%) and strong growth in online sales as a proportion of all retailing (22.3%).

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11. Labour market data

Summary of labour market statistics
Dataset A01 | Released 19 May 2020
Estimates of employment, unemployment and other employment-related statistics for the UK.

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A02 SA | Released 19 May 2020
Estimates of UK employment, unemployment and economic inactivity for people aged 16 years and over and people aged between 16 and 64 years based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Average weekly earnings
Dataset EARN01 | Released 19 May April 2020 Estimates of Great Britain earnings growth based on the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey.

Vacancies by industry
Dataset VACS02 | Released 19 May April 2020 Estimates of the number of UK job vacancies for each industry, based on a survey of businesses.

View all related data on the related data page. Alternatively, Nomis provides free access to the most detailed and up-to-date UK labour market statistics from official sources.

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12. Glossary

Average weekly earnings

Average weekly earnings measures money paid by employers to employees in Great Britain before tax and other deductions from pay. The estimates are not just a measure of pay rises as they also reflect, for example, changes in the overall structure of the workforce. More high-paid jobs in the economy would have an upward effect on the earnings growth rate.

Economic inactivity

People not in the labour force (also known as economically inactive are not in employment but do not meet the internationally accepted definition of unemployment because they have not been seeking work within the last four weeks and/or they are unable to start work in the next two weeks. The economic inactivity rate is the proportion of people aged between 16 and 64 years who are not in the labour force.

Employment

Employment measures the number of people in paid work or who had a job that they were temporarily away from (for example, because they were on holiday or off sick). This differs from the number of jobs because some people have more than one job. The employment rate is the proportion of people aged between 16 and 64 years who are in employment. A more detailed explanation is available in our guide to labour market statistics.

Unemployment

Unemployment measures people without a job who have been actively seeking work within the last four weeks and are available to start work within the next two weeks. The unemployment rate is not the proportion of the total population who are unemployed. It is the proportion of the economically active population (those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who are unemployed.

Vacancies

Vacancies are defined as positions for which employers are actively seeking recruits from outside their business or organisation. The estimates are based on the Vacancy Survey; this is a survey of businesses designed to provide estimates of the stock of vacancies across the economy, excluding agriculture, forestry and fishing (a small sector for which the collection of estimates would not be practical).

A more detailed glossary is available.

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13. Measuring the data

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

In response to the developing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we are working to ensure that we continue to publish economic statistics. For more information, please see COVID-19 and the production of statistics.

We have reviewed all publications and data published as part of the labour market release in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This has led to the postponement of some publications and datasets to ensure that we can continue to publish our main labour market data. This will protect the delivery and quality of our remaining outputs as well as ensuring we can respond to new demands as a direct result of the coronavirus.

For more information on how labour market data sources, among others, will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, see the statement published on 27 March 2020. A further article published on 6 May 2020, detailed some of the challenges that we have faced in producing estimates at this time.

Our latest data and analysis on the impact of the coronavirus on the UK economy and population is now available on our dedicated COVID-19 webpage. This will be the hub for all special coronavirus-related publications, drawing on all available data.

After EU withdrawal

As the UK leaves the EU, it is important that our statistics continue to be of high quality and are internationally comparable. During the transition period, those UK statistics that align with EU practice and rules will continue to do so in the same way as before 31 January 2020.

After the transition period, we will continue to produce our labour market statistics in line with the UK Statistics Authority's Code of Practice for Statistics and in accordance with International Labour Organization (ILO) definitions and agreed international statistical guidance.

The employment, unemployment and economic inactivity estimates rely on data collected from the LFS, a survey run by field interviewers with people across the UK every month.

The LFS performance and quality monitoring reports provide data on response rates and other quality related issues for the LFS, including breakdowns of response by LFS wave, region and question-specific response issues. The average weekly earnings and vacancies estimates rely on data collected from surveys of employers.

More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the following Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) reports:

LFS QMI

Average weekly earnings QMI

Vacancy Survey QMI

Future publication dates

Because of a public holiday in Northern Ireland, the July 2020 and July 2021 labour market publication dates have both been moved two days later. This change will ensure that users across the UK have the same access to advice from the teams who produce the statistics on the day of release. For further information, please see Statement on changing the release dates of ONS statistics to avoid public holidays.

16 June 2020
16 July 2020
11 August 2020
15 September 2020
13 October 2020
10 November 2020
15 December 2020
26 January 2021
23 February 2021
23 March 2021
20 April 2021
18 May 2021
15 June 2021
15 July 2021
17 August 2021
14 September 2021
12 October 2021
16 November 2021
14 December 2021

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14. Strengths and limitations

Accuracy of the statistics: estimating and reporting uncertainty

The figures in this bulletin come from surveys, which gather information from a sample rather than from the whole population. The sample is designed to be as accurate as possible given practical limitations such as time and cost constraints. Results from sample surveys are always estimates, not precise figures. This can have an impact on how changes in the estimates should be interpreted, especially for short-term comparisons.

As the number of people available in the sample gets smaller, the variability of the estimates that we can make from that sample size gets larger. Estimates for small groups (for example, unemployed people aged between 16 and 17 years), which are based on small subsets of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) sample, are less reliable and tend to be more volatile than for larger aggregated groups (for example, the total number of unemployed people).

In general, changes in the numbers (and especially the rates) reported in this bulletin between three-month periods are small and are not usually greater than the level that can be explained by sampling variability. Short-term movements in reported rates should be considered alongside longer-term patterns in the series and corresponding movements in other sources to give a fuller picture.

Further information is available in A guide to labour market statistics.

Where to find data about uncertainty and reliability

Dataset A11 shows sampling variabilities for estimates derived from the LFS.

Sampling variability information for average weekly earnings growth rates is available from the "Sampling Variability" worksheets within datasets EARN01 and EARN03.

The sampling variability of the three-month average vacancies level is around plus or minus 1.5% of that level. Information on revisions is available in the labour market statistics revisions policy.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Debra Leaker
labour.market@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455400