Employment in the UK: May 2019

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

This is the latest release. View previous releases

This is an accredited national statistic.

Contact:
Email Richard Clegg

Release date:
14 May 2019

Next release:
11 June 2019

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 January to March 2019

  • The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.1%, higher than for a year earlier (75.6%) and the joint- highest figure on record.

  • The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.8%; it has not been lower since October to December 1974.

  • The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at 20.8%, lower than for a year earlier (21.1%) and close to a record low.

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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. Analysis

Employment

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

Estimated employment rates for men and women aged between 16 and 64 years have been generally increasing since early 2012. For January to March 2019, the estimated employment rate:

  • for all people was 76.1%, the joint-highest since comparable records began in 1971

  • for men was 80.3%; slightly higher than for a year earlier (80.0%)

  • for women was 71.8%, the joint-highest since comparable records began in 1971

The increase in the employment rate for women in recent years is due partly to changes to the State Pension age for women, resulting in fewer women retiring between the ages of 60 and 65 years.

Looking at the estimates for employment rates by age band for January to March 2019, the highest were for those aged from 35 to 49 years (85.2%) and for those aged from 25 to 34 years (84.3%).

Estimates for January to March 2019 show 32.70 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 354,000 more than for a year earlier. This annual increase of 354,000 was due entirely to more people working full-time (up 372,000 on the year to reach 24.11 million). Part-time working showed a small fall of 18,000 on the year to reach 8.59 million.

Looking at the estimates for January to March 2019 by type of employment, there were:

  • 27.59 million paid employees (84.4% of all people in employment), 168,000 more than a year earlier

  • 4.93 million self-employed people (15.1% of all people in employment), 180,000 more than a year earlier

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

Between January to March 2018 and January to March 2019, the estimated number of:

  • UK nationals working in the UK increased by 190,000 to 28.94 million

  • EU nationals working in the UK increased by 98,000 to 2.38 million

  • non-EU nationals working in the UK increased by 80,000 to 1.32 million

More information about labour market activity by nationality can be found in the UK and non-UK people in the labour market article, published alongside this release.

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. This is because falls in the employment rate for men have been roughly offset by population increases.

Between January to March 2018 and January to March 2019:

  • hours worked in the UK increased by 2.0% (to reach 1.05 billion hours)

  • the number of people in employment in the UK increased by 1.1% (to reach 32.70 million)

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 the proportion of all employed and unemployed people (not the proportion of the total population) who are unemployed.

Estimated unemployment rates for both men and women aged 16 years and over have been generally falling since late 2013.

For January to March 2019, the estimated unemployment rate:

  • for everyone was 3.8%; it has not been lower since October to December 1974

  • for men was 3.9%; it has not been lower since March to May 1975

  • for women was 3.7%, the lowest since comparable records began in 1971

Over the last five years the unemployment rate for men has fallen from 7.0% to 3.9%. The unemployment rate for women has shown a smaller fall over this period – from 6.4% to 3.7%.

For January to March 2019, an estimated 1.30 million people were unemployed, 119,000 fewer than for a year earlier and 914,000 fewer than for five years earlier. Looking in more detail at this fall of 914,000 unemployed people over the last five years:

  • people unemployed for up to 6 months fell by 271,000 to 771,000

  • people out of work for between 6 and 12 months fell by 173,000 to 180,000

  • the largest fall was for people unemployed for over one year (down 470,000 to 346,000)

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 from 16 to 64 years.

Since comparable records began in 1971, the economic inactivity rate for all people aged from 16 to 64 years has been generally falling (although it increased during recessions). This is due to a gradual fall in the economic inactivity rate for women.

For people aged from 16 to 64 years, for January to March 2019, the estimated economic inactivity rate:

  • for all people was 20.8%, close to a record low

  • for men was 16.3%

  • for women was 25.3%, the joint-lowest since comparable records began in 1971

Estimates for January to March 2019 showed 8.61 million people aged from 16 to 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was:

  • 69,000 fewer than for a year earlier

  • 390,000 fewer than for five years earlier

Looking in more detail at the estimated fall of 390,000 in economic inactivity over the last five years, the categories showing the largest falls were:

  • women looking after the family or home (down 254,000)

  • women taking early retirement (down 239,000)

This reflects ongoing 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.

Flows between employment, unemployment and economic inactivity

Looking at estimates of flows between employment, unemployment and economic inactivity between October to December 2018 and January to March 2019, there was a net flow of:

  • 129,000 people from unemployment to employment
  • 66,000 people from economic inactivity to unemployment
  • 36,000 people from economic inactivity to employment

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These estimates of labour market flows have not been designated as National Statistics.

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4. Data

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

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A05 SA | Released 14 May 2019
Estimates of UK employment, unemployment and economic inactivity broken down into age bands.

Full-time, part-time and temporary workers
Dataset EMP01 SA | Released 14 May 2019
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 14 May 2019
Estimates for the hours that people in employment work in the UK.

Unemployment by age and duration
Dataset UNEM01 SA | Released 14 May 2019
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 14 May 2019
Estimates of those not in the UK labour force measured by the reasons given for inactivity.

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5. 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 particular week would be recorded as working zero actual hours for that week while usual hours would be recorded as 37.

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 they are unable to start work in the next two weeks. The economic inactivity rate is the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 years who are not in the labour force.

Employment

Employment measures the number of people in paid work and differs from the number of jobs because some people have more than one job. The employment rate is the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 years who are in paid work. 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 (those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who are unemployed.

A more detailed Glossary is available.

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6. Measuring the data

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

The Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) report pulls together important qualitative information on the various dimensions of data quality, as well as providing a summary of the methods used to compile the output.

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

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7. Strengths and limitations

The figures in this bulletin come from the Labour Force Survey, 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 from 16 to 17 years), which are based on quite small subsets of the Labour Force Survey 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.

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

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8. You might also be interested in

Labour market economic commentary

Article | Released 14 May 2019
Additional economic analysis of the latest UK labour market headline statistics and long-term trends.

Regional labour market statistics in the UK

Bulletin | Released 14 May 2019
Regional, local authority and Parliamentary constituency breakdowns of changes in UK employment, unemployment, economic inactivity and other employment-related statistics.

UK and non-UK people in the labour market

Article | Released 14 May 2019
Estimates of labour market activity by nationality and country of birth.

Public sector employment

Bulletin | Released 19 March 2019
Quarterly estimates of the number of people employed in the public and private sectors in the UK. The public sector comprises central government, local government and public corporations.

Young people not in education, employment or training

Bulletin | Released 28 February 2019
Quarterly bulletin examining estimates of men and women aged from 16 to 24 years in the UK who are not studying or in employment.

Working and workless households in the UK

Bulletin | Released 6 March 2019
Commentary on quarterly estimates of the economic status of UK households and the people living in them.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Richard Clegg
labour.market@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455400