Employment in the UK: April 2020

Estimates of employment, unemployment and economic inactivity for the UK.

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21 April 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 Bob Watson

Release date:
21 April 2020

Next release:
19 May 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 for December 2019 to February 2020

  • Labour Force Survey estimates presented in this bulletin cover the survey reference period ending February 2020, prior to the implementation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures.

  • The UK employment rate was estimated at a record high of 76.6%, 0.4 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points up on the previous quarter.

  • The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 4.0%, largely unchanged compared with a year earlier and 0.1 percentage point higher than the previous quarter.

  • The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at a record low of 20.2%, 0.4 percentage points lower than the previous year and 0.3 percentage points lower than the previous quarter.

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The data in this bulletin come from the Labour Force Survey, a survey of households. It is not practical to survey every household each quarter, so these statistics are estimates based on a large sample.

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3. Employment

Employment measures the number of people aged 16 years and over in paid work. The employment rate is the proportion of people aged between 16 and 64 years who are in paid work.

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 December 2019 to February 2020:

  • the estimated employment rate for all people was at a record high of 76.6%; this is 0.4 percentage points up on the year and 0.2 percentage points up on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for men was 80.5%; this is largely unchanged on the year and 0.1 percentage points up on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for women was at a record high of 72.7%; this is 0.9 percentage points up on the year and 0.3 percentage points up on the quarter

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 December 2019 to February 2020 show a record 33.07 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 352,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly driven by women in employment (up by 318,000 on the year to a record high of 15.73 million), workers aged above 50 years (up by 258,000 to a record high of 10.70 million) and aged 25 to 34 years (up by 96,000 to a record high of 7.64 million), self-employed workers (up by 195,000 to 5.03 million), and full-time employees (up by 184,000 to a record high of 20.87 million). The annual increase for self-employed women (up by 140,000 to a joint record high of 1.72 million) was the largest since May to July 2014.

There was a 172,000 increase in employment on the quarter. This was mainly driven by women in employment (up 143,000), workers aged 18 to 24 years (up 66,000 to 3.49 million) and aged above 65 years (up 62,000 to a record high of 1.39 million), and full-time employees (up 107,000).

Increases in the number of full-time workers have been leading the increases in employment in recent years, while the number of part-time workers has been relatively flat (Figure 2).

The rate of growth for women working full-time has been consistently higher than for men over the last few years, with women being the main cause of the strong increase in full-time employment. For December 2019 to February 2020, the number of women working full-time increased by 10.1% compared with the same period four years ago, while the number of men increased by 3.6% over the same period. In comparison, the number of women working part-time increased by 2.7% and the number of men working part-time decreased by 1.2%.

Looking at the estimates for December 2019 to February 2020 by type of employment:

  • there were a record 27.86 million paid employees (84.2% of all people in employment), 145,000 more than a year earlier

  • there were 5.03 million self-employed people (15.2% of all people in employment), 195,000 more than a year earlier

Self-employed women only account for around 1 in 20 of all people in employment. However, they have seen the largest rate of increase over the last 10 years. Between December 2009 to February 2010 and December 2019 to February 2020, the estimated number of women in self-employment has grown by 49.6%. Over this period, the estimated number of men in self-employment has increased by 19.9%. In comparison, the rate of increase for employees has been more modest, with women increasing by 12.5% and men increasing by 11.2% (Figure 3).

These estimates for paid employees and self-employed people make up over 99% of all people in employment in the UK. The total employment figure also includes two other minor categories, as explained in the guide to labour market statistics.

Those aged 25 to 64 years have been leading the increases in employment rates in recent years, with the largest increase seen for women. In comparison, employment rates have been relatively flat for younger and older people over the last five years. This is partly because of the different way in which full-time students interact with the labour market (Figure 4).

Hours worked

Since estimates began in 1971, total hours worked by women have generally increased, reflecting increases in both the employment rate for women and the UK population. In contrast, total hours worked by men have been relatively stable, with the level in December 2019 to February 2020 being close to the level in January to March 1971 (623 million and 628 million hours, respectively). This is because falls in the employment rate for men, and increases in the share of part-time working, have been roughly offset by population increases.

Between December 2018 to February 2019 and December 2019 to February 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 0.1% (to 1.05 billion hours). The small change in total actual weekly hours worked over the year was because of the decrease in men’s total hours worked (down 9.8 million hours) being almost matched by an increase in women’s total hours worked (up 9.1 million hours).

In December 2019 to February 2020, the annual decrease in total actual weekly hours worked by men was driven by a decrease in the average actual hours worked per week by men (down by 0.6 hours compared with a year earlier, to a joint record low of 35.9 hours). On the other hand, the annual increase in total actual weekly hours worked by women was driven by an increase in the overall level of women’s employment, while the average actual hours worked per week by women has remained largely unchanged over the year (at 27.3 hours).

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4. 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 5).

For December 2019 to February 2020:

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 4.0%; this is largely unchanged compared with a year earlier and 0.1 percentage point higher than the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.2%; 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 down by 0.1 percentage point on the year but up by 0.1 percentage point on the quarter

Between December 2014 to February 2015 and December 2019 to February 2020 (Figure 6):

  • the estimated unemployment rate for all people fell from 5.6% to 4.0%

  • the estimated unemployment rate for men fell from 5.8% to 4.2%

  • the estimated unemployment rate for women fell from 5.4% to 3.7%

For December 2019 to February 2020, an estimated 1.36 million people were unemployed. This is 22,000 more than a year earlier but 476,000 fewer than five years earlier. The small increase on the year is the second annual increase in unemployment since May to July 2012, and it was driven by a 32,000 increase for men.

Looking in more detail at the fall of 476,000 in unemployment over the last five years (Figure 7):

  • the estimated number of people unemployed for up to six months fell by 92,000 to 842,000, but it has increased by 47,000 over the last year

  • for those unemployed for over 6 months and up to 12 months, the number fell by 68,000 to 215,000, but it has been broadly flat for the last three years

  • the largest fall was for long-term unemployment (those unemployed for over one year), which was down by 316,000 to 307,000

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5. 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 8). Over recent years, the economic inactivity rate for men has been relatively flat.

For people aged between 16 and 64 years, for December 2019 to February 2020:

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was a record low of 20.2%; this is down by 0.4 percentage points on the year and down by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for men was 15.9%; this is down by 0.1 percentage point on the year and down by 0.2 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for women was a record low of 24.5%; this is down by 0.8 percentage points on the year and down by 0.4 percentage points on the quarter

Estimates for December 2019 to February 2020 show 8.37 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 166,000 fewer than a year earlier and 641,000 fewer than five years earlier. The annual decrease was mainly driven by women, with the level down by 157,000 to reach a record low of 5.09 million.

The estimated fall of 641,000 in economic inactivity over the last five years was largely driven by women, with a decrease of 529,000. This reflects changes to the State Pension age, resulting in fewer women retiring between the ages of 60 and 65 years, as well as more women in younger age groups participating in the labour market.

Looking a little more closely at the fall, the category showing the largest decrease was people looking after the family or home (down by 430,000 to a record low of 1.84 million). When the series began in March to May 1993, looking after the family or home was the most common reason for inactivity, comprising 35.3% of the total number of economically inactive people. By December 2019 to February 2020, the share had decreased to 22.0% and it was the third most common reason, behind students (25.5%) and the long-term sick (25.2%).

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6. Employment in the UK data

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A05 SA | Released 21 April 2020
Estimates of UK employment, unemployment and economic inactivity broken down into age bands.

Full-time, part-time and temporary workers
Dataset EMP01 SA | Released 21 April 2020
Estimates of UK employment including a breakdown by sex, type of employment, and full-time and part-time working.

Actual weekly hours worked
Dataset HOUR01 SA | Released 21 April 2020
Estimates for the hours that people in employment work in the UK.

Unemployment by age and duration
Dataset UNEM01 SA | Released 21 April 2020
Estimates of unemployment in the UK including a breakdown by sex, age group and the length of time people are unemployed.

Economic inactivity by reason
Dataset INAC01 SA | Released 21 April 2020
Estimates of those not in the UK labour force measured by the reasons given for inactivity.

Labour Force Survey sampling variability
Dataset A11 | Released 21 April 2020
Labour Force Survey (LFS) sampling variability (95% confidence intervals).

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7. Glossary

Actual and usual hours worked

Statistics for usual hours worked measure how many hours people usually work per week. Compared with actual hours worked, they are not affected by absences and so can provide a better measure of normal working patterns. For example, a person who usually works 37 hours a week but who was on holiday for a week would be recorded as working zero actual hours for that week, while usual hours would be recorded as 37 hours.

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 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 (that is, those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who are unemployed.

A more detailed glossary is available.

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8. Measuring the data

This bulletin relies on data collected from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the largest household survey in the UK.

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

The LFS performance and quality monitoring reports provide data on response rates and other quality-related issues for the LFS.

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 COVID-19 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 COVID-19.

Ahead of the latest labour market statistics release, David Freeman, head of labour market statistics at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), has looked at how the ONS is responding to the pressing need for new information in his blog, Measuring the labour market during Coronavirus.

For more information on how labour market data sources, among others, will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, see the statement published on 27 March 2020.

Data in this statistical bulletin and accompanying datasets relate to LFS interviews that took place throughout the three-month reference period of December 2019 to February 2020 and are largely unaffected by recent developments.

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

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9. Strengths and limitations

The figures in this bulletin come from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which gathers information from a sample of households across the UK 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 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.

Comparability

The data in this bulletin follow internationally accepted definitions specified by the International Labour Organization (ILO). This ensures that the estimates for the UK are comparable with those for other countries.

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

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Bob Watson
labour.market@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455070