Employment in the UK: July 2020

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

This is the latest release. View previous releases

Corrections

16 July 2020 12:22

A correction has been made to the average number of hours worked in Table 1: Labour Force Survey sampling variability and in Table 7 of the PDF of this bulletin. This was due to a small error when compiling the bulletin. The estimates are correct in the bulletin and associated dataset. You can see the original content in the superseded version. We apologise for any inconvenience.

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Notices

16 July 2020

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

Contact:
Email Bob Watson

Release date:
16 July 2020

Next release:
11 August 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 March to May 2020

  • March to May figures show weakening employment rates, with self-employed and part-time workers seeing reductions; despite these falls, unemployment is not rising, because of increases in people out of work, but not currently looking for work; the reduction in total hours worked is a record both on the year and the quarter despite a third of the period covered being prior to the implementation of coronavirus (COVID-19) measures.

  • The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.4%, 0.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier but 0.2 percentage points down on the previous quarter.

  • The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%, 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but largely unchanged compared with the previous quarter.

  • The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at 20.4%, 0.4 percentage points lower than the previous year but 0.2 percentage points up on the previous quarter.

  • The total number of weekly hours worked was 877.1 million, down a record 175.3 million hours on the previous year and down a record 175.1 million hours on 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. Coronavirus and measuring the labour market

Latest Labour Force Survey estimates are based on interviews that took place from the start of March to the end of May 2020. Around a third of the interviews relate to the period prior to the start of coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures. Interviews in the final week of March and the whole of April and May relate to the period following the start of lockdown and government measures aimed at protecting businesses and jobs.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) definition of employment includes those who worked in a job for at least one hour and those temporarily absent from a job. Workers furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or who are self-employed but temporarily not in work have a reasonable expectation of returning to their jobs after a temporary period of absence. Therefore they are classified as employed under the ILO definition.

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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). The employment rate for women has now levelled off, whilst the employment rate for men has decreased.

For March to May 2020:

  • the estimated employment rate for all people was 76.4%; this is 0.3 percentage points up on the year but 0.2 percentage points down on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for men was 80.1%; this is 0.1 percentage points down on the year and 0.4 percentage points down on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for women was 72.7%; this is 0.7 percentage points up on the year but largely unchanged on the quarter

Imputation used for the Labour Force Survey (LFS) was not designed to deal with the changes experienced in the labour market in recent months. Experimental work with adjusted methodology suggests the use of the existing methodology has little impact on the employment rate (less than 0.1 percentage points). Further information can be found in the section on Measuring the data.

A full assessment of labour market flows is due to be released next month as part of the August Employment in the UK release, however, it is possible to gain some understanding of the flows that have contributed to the estimates from information currently available. Despite the estimated fall in employment of 126,000 on the quarter, the estimated number of redundancies has not increased significantly over the period. Instead, experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest the number of respondents starting a new job declined greatly through the March to May period compared with the same period in previous years. 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, although levelling off under the current situation.

Estimates for March to May 2020 show 32.95 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 199,000 more than a year earlier (the smallest annual increase since March to May 2012). This annual increase was mainly driven by women in employment (up by 233,000 on the year to 15.70 million).

Employment decreased by 126,000 on the quarter. This was the largest quarterly decrease since July to September 2011. The decrease was mainly driven by men in employment (down by 100,000 to 17.25 million), workers aged 65 years and over (down by a record 76,000 to 1.31 million), the self-employed (down by a record 178,000 to 4.85 million) and part-time workers (down by 163,000). Full-time employees (up by 177,000) largely offset the decrease.

Looking at the estimates for March to May 2020 by type of employment (Figure 2), the number of self-employed has shown a sharp fall, which is not reflected in employees:

  • there were 27.95 million paid employees (84.8% of all people in employment), 97,000 more than the previous quarter

  • there were 4.85 million self-employed people (14.7% of all people in employment), a record 178,000 fewer than the previous quarter

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.

Men in employment have seen the largest quarterly decrease since July to September 2011. Looking at this more closely, full-time self-employed men (down by a record 153,000 to 2.57 million) are the main drivers of the decrease (Figure 3).

While the LFS estimate of self-employment is showing record decreases, the number of employees in employment continues to increase for March to May 2020, with the number of full-time employees reaching a record high of 21.05 million. Meanwhile, experimental monthly statistics of paid employees from HMRC’s Real Time Information (RTI) data suggest that the number of employees on payroll fell by approximately 575,000 between March and May 2020.

Estimates of the number of people in employment on the LFS are consistent with the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition of employment. Under this definition employment includes both those who are in work during the reference period and those who are temporarily away from a job. People do not necessarily need to be paid during their absence, as long as they retain enough personal job attachment to consider the absence to be temporary.

Experimental LFS estimates, based on returns for individual weeks, suggest that during May, around 450,000 to 500,000 employees, who identified themselves as being temporarily away from their jobs specifically for coronavirus (COVID-19)-related reasons, were receiving no pay. While these people would still be considered employed under ILO definition, it is likely that they would not be reported in RTI data, which are based on payroll information. Further details of the experimental RTI data can be found in the RTI article, and further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month article.

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.

Workers temporarily absent from a job as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic would still be classed as employed, however, they would be employed working no hours. This directly impacted the total actual hours worked in March to May 2020. Since the average actual weekly hours are the average of all in employment, those temporarily absent from a job also impacted on those estimates.

Between March to May 2019 and March to May 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 175.3 million, or 16.7%, to 877.1 million hours (Figure 4). This was the largest annual decrease since estimates began in 1971, with total hours dropping to its lowest level since May to July 1997. The decrease in total actual weekly hours worked over the year was mainly driven by the decrease in men's total hours worked (down a record 110.8 million hours), but there was also a large fall in women's total hours worked (down a record 64.6 million hours).

Average actual weekly hours fell by a record 5.5 hours on the year to a record low of 26.6 hours. The average weekly hours worked by men decreased a record 6.3 hours to a record low of 29.9 hours, while women's hours decreased a record 4.5 hours to a record low of 23.0 hours.

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the average number of weekly hours worked increased slightly but remained low throughout May. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month article.

Between March to May 2019 and March to May 2020, there were decreases in all industries apart from agriculture, forestry, and fishing. The largest decrease in average actual weekly hours was in the accommodation and food service activities industry, with a decrease of 12.0 hours to 16.0 hours per week, followed by construction, down 9.6 hours to 27.2 hours per week. Public administration, defence and social security had the smallest annual decrease, of 1.1 hours, to 31.2 hours per week (Figure 5).

Imputation used for the LFS was not designed to deal with the changes experienced in the labour market in recent months. Experimental work with adjusted methodology suggests the use of the existing methodology has understated the reduction in the actual numbers of hours worked by approximately 5% to 6%. Figure 5 shows the industries that have experienced the largest reduction in hours because of the coronavirus are also those where this reduction is most understated. For example, using this adjusted imputation methodology, the hours worked in accommodation and food service activities decrease by a further four hours compared with the original imputation method, to an average of 12.0 hours a week in March to May 2020. Further information can be found in the section on Measuring the data.

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5. 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 6).

For March to May 2020:

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.9%; 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but largely unchanged compared with the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.0%; this is 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but 0.2 percentage points lower than the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for women was 3.8%; this is 0.2 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the unemployment rate throughout May was broadly consistent with other weeks within the quarter. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month article.

Imputation used for the Labour Force Survey was not designed to deal with the changes experienced in the labour market in recent months. Experimental work with adjusted methodology suggests the use of the existing methodology has little impact on the unemployment rate (less than 0.1 percentage points). Further information can be found in the section on Measuring the data.

Between March to May 2015 and March to May 2020 (Figure 7):

  • the estimated unemployment rate for all people fell from 5.6% to 3.9%

  • the estimated unemployment rate for men fell from 5.8% to 4.0%

  • the estimated unemployment rate for women fell from 5.5% to 3.8%

For March to May 2020, an estimated 1.35 million people were unemployed, down 17,000 on the quarter. This is 501,000 fewer than five years earlier but 55,000 more than a year earlier. The increase on the year is the largest since March to May 2012. It was mainly driven by unemployed women (up 43,000), unemployed people aged 16 to 24 years (up 47,000) and people who have been unemployed for up to six months (up 177,000, the largest annual increase since July to September 2009). However, this was offset somewhat by people who have been unemployed for over 12 months (down 93,000 to a record low of 246,000).

The relative flatness of the unemployment figures may seem surprising, given that there are notable decreases in the number in employment. However, some initial exploratory analysis has suggested that a larger than usual proportion of those leaving employment are not currently looking for a new job and therefore becoming economically inactive, rather than unemployed. In addition, an increased number of respondents who were previously unemployed have moved to economic inactivity in March to May 2020, suggesting that some who were previously unemployed are no longer looking for work.

Looking in more detail at unemployment by age (Figure 8):

  • despite the lack of overall increase in the number of unemployed, the estimated number of people unemployed aged 16 to 24 years increased by 47,000 on the year, and 26,000 on the quarter, to 540,000

  • those unemployed aged 25 to 34 years increased by 19,000 on the year, and 13,000 on the quarter, to 267,000

  • unemployment for those aged 35 years and over decreased by 11,000 on the year, and 56,000 on the quarter, to 541,000

Looking in more detail at the increase of 55,000 in unemployment over the last year (Figure 9):

  • the estimated number of people unemployed for up to six months increased by 177,000 to 943,000, and it was up by 100,000 on the quarter

  • for those unemployed for over six months and up to 12 months, the number fell by 28,000 to a record low of 158,000, with a decrease of 56,000 on the quarter

  • long-term unemployment (those unemployed for over one year) was down by 93,000 to a record low of 246,000, with a 61,000 decrease on the quarter

These moves are consistent with the analysis that some of those who have been unemployed for longer periods may have currently stopped looking for work, therefore suppressing the increase in unemployment.

The Claimant Count (Experimental Statistics)

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These Claimant Count statistics relate to 11 June 2020. Enhancements to Universal Credit as part of the UK government's response to the coronavirus mean that an increasing number of people became eligible for unemployment-related benefit support, although still employed.

Consequently changes in the Claimant Count will not be due wholly to changes in the number of people who are unemployed. We are not able to identify to what extent people who are in work or not in work have affected the numbers.

The Claimant Count is an Experimental Statistic that seeks to measure the number of people claiming benefit principally for the reason of being unemployed.

To achieve this, the Claimant Count has generally been a count of the appropriate benefits within the UK's current benefit regime that best meet that criterion. Currently this is a combination of claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) and claimants of Universal Credit (UC) who fall within the UC "searching for work" conditionality.

Those claiming unemployment-related benefits (either UC or JSA) may be not in work and seeking work, or may be in work but with low income and/or low hours, that make them eligible for unemployment-related benefit support.

Under UC a broader span of claimants became eligible for unemployment-related benefit than under the previous benefit regime. During the roll-out of UC since 2013, movements in the Claimant Count have been significantly affected by this expanding eligibility, rather than labour market conditions. This impact has led to the Claimant Count being reclassified to an Experimental Statistic.

As part of the UK government's response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a number of enhancements were introduced to UC. These may have increased the number of people in work eligible for UC through their earnings falling below income thresholds.

Such claims will generally fall within the work search conditionality within UC.

Consequently, while some of any movement in the Claimant Count would be because of changes in the number of people who are out of work, a certain amount of the movement will be because of changes in the number of people in work who are eligible for UC as part of the government response. We are not able to identify to what extent these two factors have affected the numbers.

At 09:30 this morning (16 July 2020), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are due to publish their latest Alternative Claimant Count statistics. This attempts to model what the Claimant Count would look like once the migration to UC is completed. This release will include a breakdown between those claimants who are "in work", that is, in receipt of earnings, and those who are "out of work", not in receipt of earnings. While this will not fully tell us how many claimants are employed, unemployed or economically inactive, it will help in the understanding of the impact of the coronavirus on benefit claims.

The Claimant Count decreased in June 2020 to 2.6 million (Figure 10). This represents a monthly decrease of 1.1% but an increase of 112.2%, or 1.4 million, since March 2020.

The monthly decrease in the Claimant Count was driven by those aged 25 to 49 years, who decreased by 3.2% in June 2020. This was partially offset by the Claimant Count for those aged 18 to 24 years, which continued to increase by a further 4.9% in June 2020 (Figure 11).

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

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

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was 20.4%; this is down by 0.4 percentage points on the year but up by 0.2 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for men was 16.5%; this is up by 0.1 percentage points on the year and up by a joint record 0.5 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for women was 24.3%; this is down by 0.9 percentage points on the year and down by 0.1 percentage points on the quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the economic inactivity rate remained steady through May. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month article.

Imputation used for the Labour Force Survey was not designed to deal with the changes experienced in the labour market in recent months. Experimental work with adjusted imputation methodology suggests the use of the existing methodology has little impact on the economic inactivity rate (less than 0.1 percentage points). Further information can be found in the section on Measuring the data.

Estimates for March to May 2020 show 8.46 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 603,000 fewer than five years earlier and 157,000 fewer than a year earlier. The annual decrease was driven by women (down 184,000 to 5.07 million) and people aged 18 to 34 years (down 212,000).

The estimated fall of 603,000 in economic inactivity over the last five years was largely among women, with a decrease of 551,000. 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 at the movements in economic inactivity over the last year by reason (Figure 14), we see that the largest decrease was for people looking after the family or home (down by a record 273,000, or 13.6%, on the year to a record low of 1.74 million), followed by economically inactive students (down a record 202,000, or 8.8%, on the year). However, it was partially offset by an increase in the number of people who were economically inactive for other reasons (up a record 244,000, or 24.8%, on the year to a record high of 1.23 million). Discouraged workers also increased by 14,000 (43.9%) on the year, and 9,000 on the quarter, to 45,000, the highest level since November to January 2015.

Other reasons include people who:

  • are waiting the results of a job application

  • have not yet started looking for work

  • do not need or want employment

  • have given an uncategorised reason for being economically inactive

  • have not given a reason for being economically inactive

Estimates for March to May 2020 show a quarterly increase of 92,000 in the number of people who are economically inactive in the UK. This was mainly driven by people who were economically inactive because of other reasons (up a record 274,000 to a record high of 1,228,000) (Figure 15).

Those who are economically inactive and who want a job increased by a record 257,000 on the year and a record 253,000 on the quarter, while those who do not want a job decreased by a record 414,000 on the year and 161,000 on the quarter (Figure 16). This suggests that people who want employment are not currently looking for work, and is a further explanation of why we are not seeing a large rise in unemployment. (See Section 8: Glossary for definitions of employment, unemployment, and economic inactivity.)

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7. Employment in the UK data

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A05 SA | Released 16 July 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 16 July 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 16 July 2020
Estimates for the hours that people in employment work in the UK.

Unemployment by age and duration
Dataset UNEM01 SA | Released 16 July 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 16 July 2020
Estimates of those not in the UK labour force measured by the reasons given for economic inactivity.

Labour Force Survey sampling variability
Dataset A11 | Released 16 July 2020
Labour Force Survey (LFS) sampling variability (95% confidence intervals).

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8. 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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9. 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

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 coronavirus webpage. This will be the hub for all special coronavirus-related publications, drawing on all available data.

Impact of the coronavirus on data collection

The Labour Force Survey design is based on interviewing households over five consecutive quarters. Generally, the first of these interviews, called wave 1, takes place face-to-face, with most subsequent interviews, for waves 2 to 5, conducted by telephone.

During March, we stopped conducting face-to-face interviews, instead switching to using telephone interviewing exclusively for all waves. This initially caused a significant drop in response.

New measures have been introduced to improve this, which have increased sample sizes during April and May, although they are still below normal Labour Force Survey sample sizes.

Impact of the coronavirus on survey imputation methodology

The normal imputation for non-response to the Labour Force Survey relies on rolling forward previous responses. Although this method is adequate under normal circumstances, it is not designed to deal with the changes experienced in the labour market in recent months. A new experimental imputation methodology has been researched to improve the measurement of the labour market at this time.

Because of time and system constraints, it has not been possible to fully integrate this methodology into the results within this release, but early indications suggest that:

  • there is little impact from the use of existing methodology on the headline measures of employment, unemployment and economic inactivity (less than 0.1 percentage points)

  • measures relating to hours in this release understate the reduction in the actual number of hours worked by approximately 5% to 6%

We hope to include more information in later releases as this work develops.

Impact of the coronavirus on survey weighting methodology

Because of the impact on data collection, different weeks throughout the quarter have different achieved sample sizes. To mitigate this impact on estimates the weighting methodology was enhanced to include weekly calibration to ensure that samples from each week had roughly equal representation within the overall three-month estimate. This meant that any impacts seen from changes in the labour market in those weeks would be fully represented within the estimates.

Impact of government measures to protect businesses on the Labour Force Survey estimates

During late March, the government announced a number of measures to protect UK businesses. This included the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), also referred to as furloughing, and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) classifies people within the labour market in line with International Labour Organization (ILO) definitions. Under the ILO definition employment includes employed persons "at work", that is, who worked in a job for at least one hour; and employed persons "not in work" because of temporary absence from a job, or to working time arrangements.

Under the current schemes it is likely that workers would have an expectation of returning to that job and would consider the absence from work as temporary. Therefore, those people absent from work under the current schemes would generally be classified as employed under ILO definitions.

In many cases, however, they would be employed but not in work. This absence would have an impact on the total hours worked. This would also be reflected in the average actual hours worked, which are based on the average hours per person employed, rather than the average hours per person at work. While actual hours would be significantly affected, there is unlikely to be any impact on usual hours, which would reflect normal working patterns.

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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10. 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