Average weekly earnings in Great Britain: December 2020

Estimates of growth in earnings for employees before tax and other deductions from pay.

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15 December 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 the coronavirus. More details about the impact on labour market outputs can be found in our statement.

This is an accredited National Statistic. Click for information about types of official statistics.

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Release date:
15 December 2020

Next release:
26 January 2021

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 for August to October 2020

  • Annual growth in employee pay continued to strengthen as more employees returned to work from furlough, but the estimated growth in average pay is also affected by compositional effects of a fall in the number and proportion of lower-paid employee jobs.

  • Growth in average total pay (including bonuses) among employees for the three months August to October 2020 increased to 2.7%, and growth in regular pay (excluding bonuses) also increased, to 2.8%.

  • Growth in both total pay and regular pay was higher than inflation; in real terms, average pay was 1.9% (total pay) and 2.1% (regular pay) higher than a year ago.

  • During the early summer months, the industry sectors accommodation and food services, and construction, had seen the largest falls in pay, down more than 10% in April to June; in August to October, both continued to recover, with pay growth now negative 1.0% and negative 2.2% respectively. 

  • The reported number of jobs being paid through payroll (which includes furloughed jobs) was lower than a year ago; the composition of these jobs has affected average pay growth.

  • A notable proportion of the growth in average pay is because of a fall in the number and proportion of lower-paid employee jobs; other factors such as a fall in employees entering the labour market have also inflated average pay growth.


The estimates in this bulletin come from a survey of businesses. It is not possible to survey every business each month, so these statistics are estimates based on a sample, not precise figures.

Estimates are based on all employees on company payrolls, including those who have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

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3. Analysis of average weekly earnings

In August to October 2020, the rate of annual pay growth was positive 2.7% for total pay and positive 2.8% for regular pay.

The rate of total and regular pay growth had stood at 2.9% in December 2019 to February 2020 immediately prior to any impact from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was seen; it then slowed sharply in April to June 2020 to negative 1.3% for total pay and negative 0.1% for regular pay before some increase between July and October.

In real terms, total pay is now growing at a faster rate than inflation, at positive 1.9%, and regular pay growth in real terms is also positive, at 2.1%.

For October 2020, average total pay, before tax and other deductions, for employees in Great Britain was estimated at £560 per week in nominal terms. When expressed in real terms (constant 2015 prices) the figure in October 2020 was £514 per week, notably higher than the £489 per week estimated in June 2020.

Average regular pay was estimated at £527 per week in nominal terms. When expressed in real terms (constant 2015 prices) the figure in October 2020 was a record £484, after having fallen back to £464 per week in April 2020.

Between August to October 2019 and August to October 2020, average pay growth varied by industry sector (Figure 3). The finance and business services sector saw the highest estimated growth in total pay, at 4.6%. Negative growth was seen in the construction sector, estimated at negative 2.2%. The wholesaling, retailing, hotels and restaurants sector, estimated at 1.6%, and manufacturing, estimated at 0.3%, were positive.

This is an improvement on the growth rates in April to June 2020, the three-month period with the biggest falls, where these sectors had falls of 5.4% and 3.4% respectively.

The pattern of pay growth is closely linked to the proportion of employees who are furloughed, and the extent to which employers have topped up payments received for these employees under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published estimates of approximately 9% of the workforce on partial or full furlough leave during 19 October to 1 November 2020.

The accommodation and food service activities sector (within the wholesale, retail, hotels and restaurants sector) has a high furlough rate but this has decreased between October and November from 24% to 21.9%. Decreasing furlough rates over time have contributed towards more positive growth compared with April to June 2020. However, this is not the only driver of change in pay growth; it is also affected by changing composition of employee jobs (Figure 4).

Changes in the profile of employee jobs in the economy will have an impact on average pay growth; a decrease in employee numbers in jobs that have lower pay can have an upward effect on average pay, and vice versa. This is particularly important to consider at present because both of the two main sources of information about number of employees and employee jobs paid via payroll (HMRC's Pay As You Earn Real Time Information, and the ONS's Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey) identify a year-on-year fall of approximately 2.5%. We consider such compositional effects from three angles.

More about economy, business and jobs

Analysis of Labour Force Survey (LFS) data highlights a recent decrease in the number of part-time jobs (which have a lower average pay), and jobs in some lower-paying occupations, such as elementary occupations. This changing composition naturally increases average pay and needs to be borne in mind when interpreting average pay growth.

Figure 4 highlights that the impact of these changes is approximately 2%, compared with approximately 1% before the coronavirus (COVID-19) affected the workforce. It therefore appears that the net impact of recent job losses, when measured in terms of type of job, is to increase the estimate of average pay by approximately 1%.

Similar analysis, but based on the changing distribution of jobs between industries, is provided in dataset Earn02. The pattern of change in jobs between industries has a much smaller impact on average pay growth, estimated at 0.2%, which is the net impact of a falling number of employees on payroll in lower-paying sectors (such as accommodation and food services, and arts and entertainment) being offset by a fall in the number of employees in the higher-paying industries (professional, scientific and technical activities), and an increase in the number of employees in lower-paying health and social work activities. This was discussed in the November 2020 Average Weekly Earnings in Great Britain publication. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have published estimated changes in number of payrolled employees within industries in Earnings and employment from Pay As You Earn Real Time Information, UK: December 2020.

A third angle is provided by analysis of job inflows and outflows in HMRC Earnings and employment from Pay As You Earn Real Time Information, UK: November 2020. This considers tenure of employees who fill the stock of jobs and suggests that a fall in new entrants to the labour market (who are lower paid than average) has contributed to an increase in average pay, with magnitude of approximately 1%.

These three compositional analyses are not mutually exclusive, and do not necessarily consider all the compositional effects that affect average pay. Therefore, they do not provide a definitive answer to how much job composition changes have had an impact, but they do indicate that a substantial proportion of estimated pay growth is a result of recent changes in employee job profiles.

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4. Average weekly earnings data

Average weekly earnings
Dataset EARN01 | Released 15 December 2020
Headline estimates of earnings growth in Great Britain (seasonally adjusted).

Average weekly earnings by sector
Dataset EARN02 | Released 15 December 2020
Estimates of earnings in Great Britain broken down to show the effects of changes in wages and the effects of changes in the composition of employment (not seasonally adjusted).

Average weekly earnings by industry
Dataset EARN03 | Released 15 December 2020
Estimates of earnings in Great Britain broken down by detailed industrial sector (not seasonally adjusted).

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5. Glossary

Average Weekly Earnings

Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) is the lead monthly measure of average weekly earnings per employee. It is calculated using information based on the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey (MWSS), which samples around 9,000 employers in Great Britain.

The estimates are not just a measure of pay rises as they do not, for example, adjust for changes in the proportion of the workforce who work full-time or part-time or other compositional changes within the workforce. The estimates do not include earnings of self-employed people.

Estimates are available for both total pay (which includes bonus payments) and regular pay (which excludes bonuses). Estimates are available in both nominal terms (not adjusted for inflation) and real terms (adjusted for inflation).

Estimates of pay growth are also published by HMRC in the Earnings and employment from Pay As You Earn Real Time Information, UK: December 2020.

The HMRC estimates are presented in median pay terms, but they also include mean pay as does AWE. There are some differences between the sources, most notably that the HMRC estimates include any redundancy payments that are made through payroll. Further detail is provided in a Comparison of labour market sources, published 11 December 2020.


A bonus is a form of reward or recognition granted by an employer. When an employee receives a bonus payment, there is no expectation or assumption that the bonus will be used to cover any specific expense. The value and timing of a bonus payment can be at the discretion of the employer or stipulated in workplace agreements.

Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers' housing costs

As of 21 March 2017, the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers' housing costs (CPIH) became our lead measure of inflation. It is our most comprehensive measure of UK consumer price inflation.

Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey

The Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey (MWSS) is a survey through which we collect information on wages and salaries. It is distributed monthly to around 9,000 employers covering around 12.8 million employees.

A more detailed glossary is available.

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6. Measuring the data

The survey response rate was 78%, only slightly lower than the 83% target in more typical months.

In line with international guidance, the seasonal adjustment process has been reviewed and revised this month, with all periods in the Average weekly earnings (AWE) series open to revision.


For more information on how labour market data sources are affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, see the article published on 6 May 2020, which details some of the challenges that we have faced in producing estimates at this time.

An article published 11 December 2020 compares our labour market data sources and discusses some of the main differences.

Our latest data and analysis on the impact of the coronavirus on the UK economy and population are available on our dedicated coronavirus web page. This is the hub for all special coronavirus-related publications, drawing on all available data. In response to the developing coronavirus 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.

In April 2020, potentially significant changes in employee pay, associated with social distancing measures, made it necessary to change some aspects of the processing of average weekly earnings (AWE) data. The normal approach to processing both non-responding companies and those whose pay shows sharp unconfirmed changes from historical returns, is to roll forward (impute) employee and pay details from the most recent responding month. In April, additional data validation was conducted, and information gathered from responding companies was used in the imputation of non-responding companies.

After EU withdrawal

After the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, the UK statistical system will continue to collect and produce our wide range of economic and social statistics. We are committed to continued alignment with international statistical standards, enabling comparability both over time and internationally and we will work with users of statistics to make sure they have the data they need to support the decisions they have to make.

As the shape of the UK's future statistical relationship with the EU becomes clearer over the coming period, the ONS is making preparations to assume responsibilities that as part of our membership of the EU, and during the transition period, were delegated to the statistical office of the EU, Eurostat. This includes responsibilities relating to international comparability of economic statistics, deciding what international statistical guidance to apply in the UK context and to provide further scrutiny of our statistics and sector classification decisions.

In applying international statistical standards and best practice to UK economic statistics, we will draw on the technical advice of experts in the UK and internationally, and our work will be underpinned by the UK's well-established and robust framework for independent official statistics, set out in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. Further information on our proposals will be made available in early 2021.

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.

This bulletin relies on data collected from the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey (MWSS), a survey of employers in Great Britain, excluding small businesses employing fewer than 20 people.

More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Average weekly earnings QMI.

Sampling variability

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7. Strengths and limitations

The figures in this bulletin come from a survey of businesses that gathers 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, earnings for the construction sector), which are based on small subsets of the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey (MWSS) sample, are less reliable and tend to be more volatile than for larger aggregated groups (for example, earnings for the private sector).

In general, short-term changes in the growth rates reported in this bulletin 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 and A guide to sources of data on earnings and income.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Roger Smith
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 456120