Other commentary from the latest labour market data can be found on the following pages:
Labour Force Survey (LFS) responses have been reweighted to new populations derived using growth rates from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Real Time Information (RTI), to allow for different trends during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The reweighting will give improved estimates of both rates and levels.Back to table of contents
March to May 2021 estimates show a quarterly decrease in the unemployment rate, while both the employment and economic inactivity rates increased.
Total hours worked increased on the quarter with the relaxation of many coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.
The UK employment rate was estimated at 74.8%, 1.8 percentage points lower than before the pandemic (December 2019 to February 2020), but 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter (December 2020 to February 2021).
The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 4.8%, 0.9 percentage points higher than before the pandemic, but 0.2 percentage points lower than the previous quarter.
The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at 21.3%, 1.1 percentage points higher than before the pandemic, and 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter.
Following a period of employment growth and low unemployment, since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic the employment rate has generally decreased (down 1.8 percentage points since December 2019 to February 2020) and the unemployment rate increased (up 0.9 percentage points). However, since the end of 2020 they have shown signs of recovery. In the latest period (March to May 2021) there was a quarterly increase in the employment rate of 0.1 percentage points, to 74.8%, and a quarterly decrease in the unemployment rate of 0.2 percentage points, to 4.8%. The economic inactivity rate has increased since December 2019 to February 2020 (up 1.1 percentage points) and is up 0.1 percentage points on the previous quarter, to 21.3% (Figure 1).
Figure 1: March to May 2021 estimates show a quarterly decrease in the unemployment rate, while the employment rate and the economic inactivity rate increased
UK employment, unemployment and economic inactivity rates, seasonally adjusted, between March to May 2006 and March to May 2021
In terms of levels, in March to May 2021:
the estimated number of employed people (aged 16 years and over) was 32.18 million, an increase of 25,000 on the quarter
the estimated number of unemployed people (aged 16 years and over) was 1.64 million, a decrease of 68,000 on the quarter
the estimated number of economically inactive people (aged 16 to 64 years) was 8.81 million, an increase of 38,000 on the quarter
During the pandemic, there was a decrease in the employment rate and an increase in the economic inactivity rate for both men and women. In both cases, the largest change was seen for men. For the unemployment rate, the size of the increase was similar for both men and women (Figure 2).
Young people (those aged 16 to 24 years) have been particularly affected by the pandemic, with the employment rate decreasing and the unemployment and economic inactivity rates increasing by more than seen for those aged 25 years and over. Over the last quarter, however, there was a stronger increase in the employment rate and a decrease in the unemployment rate for young people (Figure 3).
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Following an increase in the employment rate since early 2012, the rate decreased since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; however, there was an increase since the end of 2020.
The quarterly increase in employment was mainly driven by an increase in the number of full-time workers, which reached its highest level since before the pandemic. This was partly offset by a decrease in the number of people working part-time, which reached its lowest level since 2009.
Employment by nationality
Estimates for country of birth, nationality, ethnicity and disability have been particularly affected by the introduction of the new weighting methodology so, as part of this release, we are also revising four of our quarterly tables (A08, A09, EMP06 and A12) for the periods January to March 2020 through to January to March 2021. Our other quarterly tables will be revised in August.
The number of non-UK nationals from the EU working in the UK had increased between 2010 and 2016 and had been largely flat up until January to March 2020 but has decreased since then (Figure 4). Meanwhile, the number of non-UK nationals from outside the EU working in the UK had been largely flat since 2010 and has gradually been increasing since 2017.
In March to May 2021, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK increased by 23.3 million hours from the previous quarter, to 981.4 million hours (Figure 5). This coincided with the relaxing of coronavirus lockdown measures, which had stalled the recent recovery in total hours. However, this is still 6.7% below pre-pandemic levels (December 2019 to February 2020).
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The unemployment rate had generally been falling since late 2013 up until the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It increased since then but has fallen since the end of 2020.
The quarterly decrease in unemployment was driven by a decrease in short-term unemployment (those unemployed for up to six months), which reached its lowest level since before the pandemic (Figure 6). Meanwhile, the number of people in long-term unemployment (those unemployed for over 12 months) continued to increase and the number of people who had been unemployed for between 6 and 12 months was down slightly on the quarter.Back to table of contents
Since comparable records began in 1971, the economic inactivity rate has generally been falling; however, it has increased during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In terms of reasons for economic inactivity (Figure 7), the increase since the start of the pandemic (December 2019 to February 2020) was largely driven by:
those who are economically inactive because they are students, although the increase shows signs of easing
those who are economically inactive because of "other" reasons, although this has decreased slightly since early 2021
This increase was offset somewhat by the large decrease in people who were economically inactive because they were looking after family or home, although the numbers in this category increased slightly in the latest quarter.Back to table of contents
In March to May 2021, reports of redundancies in the three months prior to interview decreased by 3.8 per thousand employees on the quarter to 3.8 per thousand employees (Figure 8), similar to pre-pandemic levels.
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Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A05 SA | Released 15 July 2021
Estimates of UK employment, unemployment and economic inactivity broken down into age bands.
Full-time, part-time and temporary workers
Dataset EMP01 SA | Released 15 July 2021
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 15 July 2021
Estimates for the hours that people in employment work in the UK.
Unemployment by age and duration
Dataset UNEM01 SA | Released 15 July 2021
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 15 July 2021
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 15 July 2021
Labour Force Survey (LFS) sampling variability (95% confidence intervals).
Labour Force Survey single month estimates
Dataset X01 | Released 15 July 2021
Labour Force Survey (LFS) single-month estimates of employment, unemployment and economic inactivity have been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) since 2004. Not designated as National Statistics.
Labour Force Survey weekly estimates
Dataset X07 | Released 15 July 2021
Labour Force Survey (LFS) weekly estimates of employment, unemployment, economic inactivity and hours in the UK. All estimates are calculated from highly experimental weekly Labour Force Survey datasets.
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.
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 has directly affected estimates of total actual hours worked during the pandemic. Since the average actual weekly hours are the average of all in employment, those temporarily absent from a job also affected these estimates.
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 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.
Workers furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or those 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 International Labour Organization definition.
A more detailed explanation is available in our guide to labour market statistics.
The redundancy estimates measure the number of people who were made redundant or who took voluntary redundancy in the three months before the Labour Force Survey interviews; it does not take into consideration planned redundancies.
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.Back to table of contents
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 Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) report.
The LFS performance and quality monitoring reports provide data on response rates and other quality-related issues for the LFS.
View more information on how labour market data sources are affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, published on 6 May 2020.
LFS responses have been reweighted to new populations derived using growth rates from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Real Time Information (RTI), to allow for different trends during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The reweighting will give improved estimates of both rates and levels.Back to table of contents
Uncertainty in these data
The estimates presented in this bulletin contain uncertainty.
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. 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.
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.
Information on the quality of estimates is available in our Labour Force Survey sampling variability table.
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.
The annual reconciliation report of job estimates article, which compares the latest workforce jobs series estimates with the equivalent estimates of jobs from the LFS and is usually published every March, has been postponed until we are able to take the latest adjustments to the LFS into account.
Further information is available in A guide to labour market statistics.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455070