The key economic stories from National Statistics produced over the latest month, painting a coherent picture of the UK economic performance using recent economic data.
The Quarterly National Accounts left Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in the final quarter of 2013 unrevised at 0.7%, but reduced annual growth in 2013 to 1.7%, largely as a consequence of lower than previously estimated household expenditure.
While GDP was just 1.4% below its pre-downturn peak in Q4 2013, GDP per capita remains some 6.1% below its level in Q1 2008, and is little higher than the level first achieved in early 2005.
Recent UK productivity growth has been boosted by workers moving from industries with low levels of output per hour to industries with high levels of productivity. This ‘reallocation’ effect is estimated to have added 1.5 percentage points to UK productivity growth between Q1 2008 and Q4 2013.
Average real hourly wages were around 7.6% below their 2008 level in Q4 2013, but there was substantial variation between industries. In the construction industry, real hourly wages are around 13.4% below their pre-downturn level, while in the finance & business services industry – which experienced higher real wages until late 2011 – real hourly wages are just 4.2% lower than in 2008.
Much of the recent upwards pressure on the employment rate has come from older workers, who are more likely to be self-employed. Workers aged 50 and above account for more than 70% of the increase in self-employment since Q1 2008.
The third estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth confirmed that the economy grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of 2013, supported by a combination of stronger investment, household spending and net trade. This more balanced quarter takes the level of GDP to 1.4% below its pre-downturn level. However, despite this evidence of a continuing economic recovery, the Quarterly National Accounts pointed to a small fall in the saving ratio, a reduction in real household disposable income and the second largest current account deficit on record. GDP per capita – a measure of total output per person – remains 6.1% below the pre-downturn peak and at similar levels to those first achieved in early 2005. It is with this background that the April Edition of the Economic Review analyses several aspects of the UK’s recent economic performance.
Firstly, the recent strength of the labour market has been one of the defining characteristics of the economic downturn which started in 2008. The number of people employed is at a record high, while the employment rate is now well above its trough. This Edition of the Economic Review examines recent trends in employment rates – considering the different experiences of men and women, older and younger workers. It also presents evidence on the recent increases in self- and full-time employment which suggests that workers aged 50 and above account for more than 70% of the increase in self-employment between Q1 2008 and Q4 2013.
The relative weakness of output growth and the strength of employment have led to a well-documented decline in the level of UK productivity. Following examinations of productivity within the manufacturing (Economic Review - February 2014) and services industries (Economic Review - March 2014) in the February and March editions, this Economic Review presents evidence on each industry’s contribution to aggregate productivity growth. In particular, it estimates that reallocations of labour between industries have raised output per hour growth in the UK by around 1.5 percentage points since Q1 2008.
Low productivity growth is one of the main factors thought to be holding down real wage growth in the UK (An Examination of Falling Real Wages - 2010 to 2013). This edition of the Economic Review presents an analysis of earnings in several industries which suggests that the extent of real wage declines varies widely. After accounting for changes in average hours and inflation, workers in the construction industry have seen real hourly wage cuts of around 13.4% since 2008. Workers in finance & business services – who experienced real wage increases as recently as 2011 – have experienced a 4.2% cut in real hourly wages over the same period.
The third estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth confirmed that the economy grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of 2013. The Quarterly National Accounts (QNA), which contain the most detailed statement of the UK’s economic performance during Q4 2013 available to date, indicated that growth in the quarter was supported by a combination of stronger household expenditure (adding 0.2 percentage points to quarterly growth), net trade (1.0 percentage points) and gross fixed capital formation (0.3 percentage points).
The contributions to growth in Q4 2013 indicate that the UK’s economic growth became more balanced in the final three months of 2013 (see Figure 1). The positive contribution of net trade to GDP growth in the final quarter of 2013 reflected the stronger growth of total exports (2.8%) and of services exports in particular (5.5%), and a fall in imports. However, this rise broadly offset the negative contribution that trade made in the preceding quarter. Investment, which has been relatively weak since the onset of the economic downturn, has now grown for four consecutive quarters, its longest spell of sustained expansion since 2007. Business investment, which includes all non-dwelling investment activity in the private sector, was 8.7% higher in Q4 2013 than the same period a year earlier, supported by higher investment in machinery & equipment (24.3%) and buildings and other structures (8.1%). Investment in dwellings – which is likely to have been influenced by the recent recovery in the UK’s property market – was around 9.9% higher in Q4 2013 than the same period a year ago.
The QNA also introduced revisions arising from new data for the period since 2012. The two largest changes affected household spending – which was revised down slightly in 2013 – and the volumes of UK imports and exports – both of which were revised up in 2012 and 2013. The net effect of these changes was to leave annual GDP growth unchanged at 0.3% in 2012. Annual GDP growth in 2013 was 1.7%, 0.1 percentage points lower than the previous estimate, but still the strongest growth since 2007. Data on the UK’s Balance of Payments suggested that the current account deficit as a proportion of GDP was the second largest on record in Q4 2013 – largely as a consequence of a deterioration in the UK’s income balance.
Taken together, the revisions introduced in the Quarterly National Accounts mean that GDP was around 1.4% below the pre-downturn peak in Q4 2013 – closer than at any point since the trough in Q3 2009. Figure 2 shows the path of GDP and GDP per capita since 1955 (Panel A) and since the start of 2007 (Panel B), indexed to the pre-downturn peak in Q1 2008. It indicates that despite the recent downwards revision, GDP growth has accelerated since the end of 2012. In the fifteen quarters between the trough and Q1 2013, the UK economy recovered just under half of the output lost in the downturn. By contrast, it has recovered around 30% of the lost output in the last four quarters alone.
While aggregate output has grown strongly in recent quarters, Figure 2 suggests that GDP per capita – a measure of output per person in the economy – has only recently started to recover. This difference is particularly pronounced in Panel B of Figure 2. While GDP has closed on the pre-downturn peak, GDP per capita remains some 6.1% below the level in Q1 2008, and is little higher than the level first achieved in early 2005.
Much of the recent strength of output has been driven by higher household consumption. Figure 3 highlights this recent strength, showing the quarter on same quarter a year ago growth in household spending. After falling sharply during 2008 and 2009, spending by households has resumed its upward path, albeit at a slower rate than previously. Between Q1 1992 and Q1 2008, household spending grew at a compound average quarterly rate of 0.9%, before falling by around 0.3% per quarter between the pre-downturn peak and Q4 2011. Since the start of 2012, household spending has been growing at just less than half its pre-downturn rate, at around 0.4% per quarter.
Figure 3 also highlights the recent performance of the saving ratio – the fraction of total households’ disposable income that is not consumed. It shows that recent falls in the saving ratio during the early part of the year were carried into Q4 2013. Figure 3 indicates that the saving ratio fell from a peak of 8.6% during the downturn to 5.6% in Q3 2013 and to 5.0% in Q4 2013. Real households’ disposable income (RHDI) – which has been broadly flat since the onset of the economic downturn – fell by 0.1% on the quarter. On a per capita basis, RHDI fell by 0.3% in Q4 2013, and remains at broadly the level first achieved in late 2005.
Both households’ disposable income and expenditure have been supported by the relatively resilient performance of the labour market during the recent economic downturn. The level of employment among those aged 16 and above increased to 30.2 million in the three months to January 2014 – the highest on record. The employment rate – the percentage of the population in work – also fell much less sharply following the financial market shocks than it did during the downturn of the early 1990s in particular. Figure 4 shows the employment rates for men and women aged 16 and above since 1997. It suggests that much of the employment adjustment – the fall in the employment rate during the downturn – fell on male workers, as their employment rate declined more sharply than that of females. While the male employment rate remained around 2.3 percentage points below its 2001-2007 average in the three months ending in January 2014 (partly reflecting lower employment in male dominated industries such as construction), the employment rate among women was around 0.4 percentage points above its 2001-2007 average in the same period.
Figure 4 also suggests that the gap in employment rates between men and women narrowed considerably over the 1997 to 2014 period, falling from 15 percentage points to 11 percentage points. Much of this reduction came during 2008 and 2009, reflecting the larger fall in male than female employment rates during the economic downturn. The gradual closing of the gap during much of the preceding period captures the upwards drift in female labour market participation which has been underway for several decades. Between Q1 1983 and the three months ending in January 2014, the employment rate for women aged 16 and above increased from 42.9% to 53.7%.
The recent strengthening of employment also has an important age dimension. Figure 5 shows the contribution of different age groups to changes in the employment rate for those aged 16 and above relative to Q1 2008. It captures the extent to which changes in employment rates and the share of each group in the total population have varied over this period, and indicates that while the employment rate is still 1.3 percentage points below its pre-downturn peak, the contribution of different groups has varied. Higher employment rates among those aged 50 to 64 and 65 and above added around 1.3 percentage points to the aggregate employment rate over this period. While the causes of this are likely to be many and varied, the rise in the state-pension age for women and an increased willingness among older cohorts to remain in the labour market appear likely to be driving higher employment rates among older age groups. Lower employment rates among those aged 16 to 17 and 18 to 24 have acted to lower the employment rate by a similar amount over this period.
The impact of those aged 25 to 34 and 35 to 49 is more complicated. The employment rate for the younger age group – which has been increasing recently – remains below its pre-downturn level. The positive contribution it makes to overall employment rates is instead driven by the growth in the fraction of the population for which it accounts. Conversely, employment rates for 35 to 49 year olds are above their pre-downturn level, but the share of the population accounted for by this group has fallen over this period.
While Figure 5 suggests that the employment experience of different age groups has varied since Q1 2008, the timing of changes in employment is interesting. In the early phase of the downturn, the only age group to experience higher employment rates was the group aged 65 and above, while younger workers experienced lower employment rates. However, since the beginning of 2012, workers aged 25 to 34 have seen their employment rate rise. This switch may be partly due to changes in the types of job that are being created, as is shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6 shows contributions to the change in the level of employment relative to Q1 2008. The red line indicates that the level of employment was around 613,000 higher in Q4 2013 than in Q1 2008, largely due to higher self- and part-time employment. Figure 6 also suggests that both part-time and self-employment grew relatively strongly during the economic downturn, coinciding with the period during which older workers made a greater contribution to the employment rate (Figure 5). There is also a broad correspondence between the rise in employment rates among those aged 25 to 34 and 50 to 64 and the recovery of full-time employment in Figure 6, suggesting that certain age groups are more likely to fall into different employment categories.
Table 1 goes some way towards supporting this thesis, presenting the share of total employment in each age group which was accounted for by self-employment in 2013. It suggests that younger workers – who are by nature less experienced and often lack the capital of older workers – are much less likely to be self-employed than older workers. The self-employment share rises smoothly through the age groups from around 5% of total employment for those aged 18 to 24 to around 38% of those aged 65 and above.
|Share of group total in 2013:|
|Share of change in total Self-Emp. Q1 2008-Q4 2013||1||4||25||-1||37||35||100|
The final row in Table 1 shows the percentage share of the change in self employment between Q1 2008 and Q4 2013 accounted for by each age group. It suggests that together the 50 to 64 and 65 and above age categories account for just over 70% of the rise in self-employment over this period, while the youngest two age groups account for just over 5%.
The strength of employment combined with the relative weakness of GDP growth since 2008 has resulted in a well-documented decline in the level of productivity. Since 2008, UK productivity growth has been the weakest of the G7 nations (International Comparisons of Productivity - 2012 - Final Estimates) and output per hour was around 4.3% below its pre-downturn peak in Q4 2013. However, this aggregate productivity performance masks quite broad differences within the services (Economic Review - March 2014) and manufacturing (Economic Review - February 2014) industries.
Figure 7 shows the growth of output, hours worked and productivity in each of the sub-industries of the agricultural, production, construction (Panel A) and services industries (Panel B). It shows that only six of these 25 sub-industries have experienced positive average productivity growth since the onset of the economic downturn, and in four of these cases (food, beverages, & tobacco, computer & electronic products, transport equipment and wholesale & retail), productivity growth has been achieved through either lower hours worked or a combination of lower hours and output. Mining & quarrying, and electricity, gas, steam & air conditioning have experienced the largest falls in productivity relative to Q1 2008. Output per hour in these industries has fallen at an average quarterly rate of 3.2% and 1.7% respectively as a consequence of sharp output reductions and equally-marked increases in hours worked.
The weakness of productivity growth has been central to the debate on the extent of spare capacity (Economic Review - March 2014) in the UK economy, and its evolution has important consequences for policy. Conceptually, aggregate labour productivity growth can occur for two reasons. Firstly, productivity within each industry can improve, as firms develop new production techniques and methods to increase the amount of output they generate from a given labour input. Secondly, labour can be reallocated away from low-productivity industries towards those with higher levels of output per hour. In the first instance, productivity growth is the result of more efficient production systems. In the second, aggregate productivity grows because of a change in the mix of goods produced in the economy. This decomposition is important because it has implications for long-run output and productivity: if output per hour growth is built on the first type of ‘within industry’ productivity growth it may be sustained over the long term. The second, ‘reallocation’ type of productivity growth is limited: as more workers are allocated to the highest productivity industry, the scope for continuing reallocation diminishes.
Figure 8 decomposes the UK’s recent productivity performance to provide an estimate of output per hour growth that is attributable to within-industry productivity growth, and that due to a reallocation of labour across the industries shown in Figure 7. While Figure 7 shows that within-industry productivity performance has been varied since Q1 2008, Figure 8 suggests that output per hour losses in the services and production industries more than account for the fall in UK productivity. Lower output per hour in financial services, other services and agriculture & non-manufacturing production have acted to reduce UK output per hour by 5.6% relative to the pre-downturn peak.
By contrast, changes to the allocation of labour between industries (shown in the yellow bars above) have acted to raise productivity over this period – suggesting that labour input has been moving away from less productive industries towards those with higher levels of output per hour. Table 2 provides some evidence of these reallocations. For instance, three sub-industries with among the highest levels of output per hour in 2013 – the utilities, mining & quarrying, and real estate industries - saw their level of hours worked increase by 25.1%, 42.3% and 15.6% respectively between 2008 and 2013 – raising their share of total hours worked. By contrast, the share of total hours worked in the construction and retail industries – which have among the lowest levels of productivity – have fallen by 0.9 and 0.4 percentage points respectively over this period. Taken together, these estimates suggest that reallocations of labour added around 1.5 percentage points to aggregate productivity growth between Q1 2008 and Q4 2013. This effect has grown strongly by recent standards since mid-2012 – broadly corresponding to the period during which there has been a sustained increase in full-time employment.
|Hours Share 2008||Hours Share 2013||Change in hours share||Change in hours 2008-2013||Output per hour|
|Agric., Forest. & Fish.||1.6||1.6||0.0||1.3||10|
|Accom. & Food||5.3||5.3||-0.1||1.4||14|
|Transport & Stor.||5.3||5.1||-0.2||-1.6||24|
|Rubber & Plastics||1.1||0.9||-0.2||-14.4||24|
|Food, Bev. & Tob.||1.6||1.5||-0.1||-1.9||29|
|Computer & Elect. Prod.||0.9||0.7||-0.2||-19.1||33|
|Info. & Comm.||4.4||4.6||0.2||7.7||41|
|Water & Sew.||0.5||0.6||0.1||18.5||57|
|Finan. & Insur||4.1||4.0||-0.1||0.6||66|
|Elect., Gas, Steam & Air Con.||0.4||0.5||0.1||25.1||74|
|Mining & Quarrying||0.3||0.4||0.1||42.3||234|
Output per hour is the four-quarter average of output per hour in 2010. This is calculated by dividing low level gross value added in constant prices by the number of ‘productivity hours worked’. Information for all industries is available via the download. Figures may not sum due to rounding
The weakness of productivity growth since the onset of the economic downturn is one of main factors which has influenced the path of real wages over the last five years (An Examination of Falling Real Wages - 2010 to 2013). In the long term, changes in labour productivity are thought to feed through to changes in wages and consequently the recent period of stagnating output per hour growth has put pressure on household incomes.
Figure 9 shows several features of the UK’s recent real wage experience. Panel A presents average weekly regular pay for the whole economy and several sub-industries indexed to 2008. This suggests that while average earnings have risen by around 9% between 2008 and Q4 2013, workers in different sectors have experienced quite different nominal wage growth. Earnings in the finance & business services (11.2%) and manufacturing industries (12.7%) have grown relatively strongly over this period, while nominal wages in the construction industry have risen by less than 4%.
As total weekly earnings are a result of both hourly wages and hours worked each week, Panel B shows the pay indices from Panel A adjusted for changes in the length of the working week. This creates an implied ‘average hourly wage’ series, which strips out the effects of changing hours worked in each industry. As average hours have risen over this period, the whole economy average wage index falls slightly, but there remain large differences between different industries. Earnings growth in the finance & business services industry continues in to be relatively strong in Panel B, as average hours in this industry are little changed compared with 2008. By contrast, adjusting for hours worked worsens the position for construction workers: on a nominal hourly basis, wages in construction were just 1.5% higher in Q4 2013 than in 2008. Panel B also suggests that much of the recent rise in manufacturing weekly wages has been driven by increases in the number of hours worked: of the 12.7% rise in nominal wages between 2008 and Q4 2013, 2.2 percentage points are due to higher hours worked. Despite the rise in hourly wages in the most recent quarter, this effect shifts manufacturing wages down from amongst the best performing sectors in Panel A, to be in the middle of the pack in Panel B.
Panel C of Figure 9 adjusts these average hourly wage series for the impact of inflation as calculated in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). While this leaves the distribution of wage outcomes unchanged, it shifts all five series downwards and suggests that none of these industries have been immune to real wage reductions. Relative to 2008, average real hourly earnings fell in the services (-6.9%), manufacturing (-5.6%) and construction industries (-13.4%), and by around 7.6% across the economy. By contrast, workers in the finance & business services industries – who experienced real wage increases relative to 2008 as recently as 2011 – had seen only a 4.2% fall in average real hourly pay in Q4 2013.
|Index of Services|
|Business Services & Finance1||2.1||2.2||0.6||1.1||1.0||0.4||0.3||0.4||:|
|Government & Other1||1.1||0.6||0.0||0.4||0.8||-0.1||0.0||0.3||:|
|Distribution, Hotels & Rest. 1||0.9||3.5||1.6||1.2||0.5||0.9||0.4||0.3||:|
|Transport, Stor. & Comms. 1||0.0||1.3||0.0||-0.1||0.4||0.9||0.7||1.1||:|
|Index of Production|
|Mining & Quarrying1||-8.7||-2.1||1.8||0.5||-1.8||-1.9||3.3||-3.4||:|
|Retail Sales Index|
|All Retailing, excl.Fuel1||1.4||2.1||0.9||1.6||0.9||0.3||2.8||-2.0||1.8|
|Predom. Food Stores1||0.0||-0.1||-0.6||1.7||0.0||0.2||2.6||-3.8||2.1|
|Predom. Non-Food Stores1||1.7||1.9||1.9||1.1||1.4||0.2||2.7||-0.1||0.6|
|Balance 2, 3||-33.6||-25.8||-5.1||-9.6||-5.3||-2.3||-0.7||-2.6||:|
|Public Sector Finances|
|PNSB-ex, ex RM & APF 6||2.9||-11.5||-2.4||0.3||-3.3||-0.5||-3.5||0.8||0.1|
|PNSD-ex as a % GDP||74.4||75.7||74.3||74.5||75.7||74.6||75.7||74.6||74.7|
|Employment Rate1, 2||71.1||71.7||71.5||71.8||72.1||72.1||72.3||:||:|
|Unemployment Rate1, 3||7.9||7.6||7.8||7.6||7.2||7.2||7.2||:||:|
|Inactivity Rate1, 4||22.6||22.2||22.3||22.2||22.1||22.1||22.1||:||:|
|Claimant Count Rate7||4.7||4.3||4.5||4.2||3.8||3.8||3.7||3.6||3.5|
|Total Weekly Earnings6||£469||£475||£478||£475||£477||£476||£479||£479||:|
|Recreation & Culture5||0.2||1.1||1.4||0.8||0.9||1.1||0.8||0.4||0.7|
|Food & Non-alcoh. Bev. 5||3.2||3.8||4.2||4.1||2.8||2.8||1.9||2.0||1.8|
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