Early indications of the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the labour market show that average weekly actual hours worked fell by 2.5% between January and March 2019 and the same period in 2020, compared with a decline of 2.2% in the period January to March 2008 and the same period in 2009.
Between January to March 2019 and January to March 2020 the largest loss of average actual hours worked was recorded in the accommodation and food services industry (negative 11.8%)
Young workers aged 16 to 24 years experienced the largest fall in average actual hours (negative 5.9%) compared with other age groups, followed by those aged 65 years and older (negative 4.8%).
Vacancies decreased across all industries, with the largest percentage decrease recorded in the accommodation and food services industry (negative 41.5%) in the period between February to April 2019 and February to April 2020.
Actual hours worked differed by age group. Figure 3 shows that young workers (those aged 16 to 24 years) had the largest reduction in actual hours worked (negative 5.9%), followed by workers aged 65 years and over (negative 4.8%).
Young workers are most concentrated in the distribution (21.4%) and accommodation and food services (16.3%) industries. They also constitute a large proportion of workers on non-standard forms of employment (for example, zero-hours contracts). Older workers in the age groups 50 to 64 years and 65 years and over have higher employment concentrations in the human health and social work activities (15.8% and 12.6% respectively) and education (11.2% and 12.7% respectively) industries.Back to table of contents
The decrease in actual hours worked in the year to January to March 2020 differed between men and women. In Figure 4, the top four industries with larger decreases in actual hours worked by women than by men are accommodation and food services, construction, information and communication, and manufacturing.
In the two industries where actual hours worked decreased the most, the loss of actual hours worked by women was larger than that of men. However, overall, the actual hours worked by men decreased by more than for women. The latest estimates for the year to January to March 2020 show that actual hours worked by men decreased by 3.0% to a record low of 35.4 hours, while those for women decreased by 1.5% to 27.0 hours. Generally, men tend to work more hours than women, and women are disproportionately represented in part-time work.
Although the number of weekly actual hours worked by men declined in all industries in the year to January to March 2020, those worked by women increased in four industries (agriculture, forestry and fishing; transport and storage; human health and social work activities; and "other" services). The largest increase in average actual hours worked by women was in agriculture, forestry and fishing (8.0%) followed by transport and storage (3.1%).
We can further analyse the changes in hours by looking at the proportion of women employed in each industry compared with that of men. This shows that the increases in women’s actual hours worked in the agriculture and transport and storage industries should be treated with caution because of relatively small sample sizes within the women’s estimates, which may cause small changes in actual hours to appear to have relatively large effects.Back to table of contents
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been producing experimental data on some labour market indicators to identify the latest trends. This analysis focuses on the experimental weekly Labour Force Survey (LFS) and monthly vacancies estimates. The experimental data should be interpreted with caution because they are highly variable and methodologically less robust compared with three-month estimates. More information on the methodology can be found in single-month LFS estimates released in May 2020. As such, we focus on scales of magnitude and directional changes rather than specific numbers.
The early impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic showed through an increase in the number of people who are temporarily away from paid work in the period January to March 2020. These included people who were furloughed from their jobs.
The impact of the pandemic also showed through changes in actual hours worked, with large falls in average actual hours for week 12 and week 13 of Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2020, which cover the week before lockdown (16 March to 22 March 2020) and the week of lockdown (23 March to 29 March 2020), respectively. In particular, the data for 2020 show a large increase in the number of people who worked fewer than usual hours for economic reasons, which includes those who reported being on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
In Figure 7, we show trends in the difference between actual hours worked by men and women between Quarter 1 week 1 (Jan to Mar) week 1 (the first week of January) and Quarter 2 (Apr to June) week 4 (the fourth week of April) in the years 2018 to 2020. We include the first four weeks of the second quarter (for 2018 and 2019) to show past trends and the extent and direction of the current deviation.
Figure 7 shows that generally men have more actual hours worked than women, with the trend of the gap between men and women in 2018 and 2019 averaging between 8.0 and 10.0 hours. The trend of the gap in 2020 closely followed those of 2018 and 2019 until week 11 of 2020; the gap declined from week 12. This indicates that the difference between actual hours worked by men and women declined from the same period, driven by a larger decrease in actual hours worked by men than by women.
Disaggregating actual hours worked into employee and self-employed actual hours worked helps us to identify which type of worker experienced a larger decrease in hours worked because of the coronavirus pandemic. Figure 8 shows this disaggregation for the years 2018 to 2020.
In Quarter 1 2020, both self-employed and employees’ actual hours worked decreased by more than in previous years. From week 10 of Quarter 1 of 2020, self-employed hours started to deviate from the previous years’ trends. Employees’ actual hours worked also started decreasing further in week 13 of Quarter 1 2020 in response to the lockdown measures that were introduced, and the decrease in hours worked by the self-employed continued. The series in Figure 8 show high variability that is partly associated with the changing timing of Easter in different years, so caution should be used when analysing these data.
Experimental monthly vacancies estimates give a largely similar picture to that of quarterly estimates. However, the experimental estimates show different directions of changes in some industries that have not yet shown up in quarterly estimates. For example, the percentage fall in the number of vacancies in the construction and wholesale and retail industries is much higher in experimental estimates than in quarterly estimates, meaning these are the industries to watch for evolving trends.
The experimental monthly vacancies estimates show that the accommodation and food service activities industry had the largest percentage decrease in vacancies, followed by the construction and motor-trades industries. Figure 9 shows the percentage changes in vacancies by industry between April 2019 and April 2020.
Industries designated as offering essential services and employing key workers did not show large changes in the number of vacancies, for example, human health and social work activities and utilities industries.
Another set of the ONS' experimental statistics is based on the analysis of the Adzuna weekly online job adverts to derive an indicator of weekly vacancies that provides an early indication of the trend of the number of live job adverts in the UK. Indices of the Adzuna weekly vacancies and the ONS monthly vacancies estimates for the period January 2019 to May 2020 are plotted together in Figure 10.
Figure 10 shows that the experimental vacancies estimates have similar growth trends. Despite the similarity of the trends, the experimental Adzuna job adverts data and the ONS Vacancy Survey are not directly comparable because the two sources of vacancies have different definitions of what they cover. For example, the Adzuna vacancies are based on listed online job adverts, which can include multiple job opportunities within one advert and therefore do not align directly with one job vacancy. The ONS Vacancy Survey covers vacancies defined as a vacancy for which businesses are actively seeking recruits from outside their organisation. Nonetheless, the comparison of the two data sources is important as a quality check for ONS vacancies data.Back to table of contents
Although the full impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the UK labour market will fully reveal itself in the coming months, actual hours worked and vacancies provide early indicators of its implications. They suggest that the impact of the pandemic was felt to different extents across industries and individuals with certain demographic characteristics.
Actual hours worked by men decreased more than those worked by women. Businesses in the accommodation and food service activities industry were the worst affected in reductions of actual hours worked and vacancies. Early indications are that the young and the self-employed are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Labour market estimates covering the month of April 2020, which will be released later this month, will offer a more comprehensive picture of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on UK workers, including on employment, unemployment and inactivity. However, some of these effects may be limited by the UK government interventions aimed at protecting workers, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).Back to table of contents
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