Employment in the UK: May 2020

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

This is not the latest release. View latest release

19 May 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:
19 May 2020

Next release:
16 June 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 January to March 2020

  • The UK employment rate was estimated at a joint record high of 76.6%, 0.6 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points up on the previous quarter.

  • The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%, 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier and also 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter.

  • The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at a joint record low of 20.2%, 0.7 percentage points lower than the previous year and 0.3 percentage points lower than the previous quarter.

  • The total number of weekly hours worked was 1,040.6 million, 12.4 million hours less than the previous year.

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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. Things you need to know

Labour Force Survey estimates

Labour Force Survey estimates of employment presented in this bulletin are based on interviews that took place throughout the period from the start of January to the end of March 2020. Consequently, most interviews relate to the period prior to the implementation of coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures. Interviews in the final week of March relate to the period following the government closure of schools, introduction of lockdown and announcement of 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.

Claimant Count

The Claimant Count statistics presented in this bulletin relate to 9 April 2020. Enhancements to Universal Credit as part of the UK government's response to COVID-19 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 employed or unemployed have affected the numbers.

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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).

For January to March 2020:

  • the estimated employment rate for all people was at a joint record high of 76.6%; this is 0.6 percentage points up on the year and 0.2 percentage points up on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for men was 80.4%; this is 0.1 percentage points up on the year and 0.2 percentage points down on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for women was at a record high of 72.9%; this is 1.1 percentage points up on the year and 0.5 percentage points up on the quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the employment rate in the last week of March was broadly consistent with other weeks within the quarter. However, there was a significant increase in the numbers who were employed, but temporarily away from work. 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.

Estimates for January to March 2020 show a record 33.14 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 448,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly driven by women in employment (up by 369,000 on the year to a record high of 15.79 million), workers aged above 50 years (up by 313,000 to a record high of 10.76 million) and aged 25 to 34 years (up by 106,000 to a record high of 7.65 million), and full-time employees (up by 344,000 to a record high of 20.91 million).

There was a 211,000 increase in employment on the quarter. This was mainly driven by women in employment (up 185,000), workers aged above 65 years (up 124,000 to a record high of 1.42 million), employees (up 238,000 to a record high of 27.96 million), and part-time workers (up 174,000 to 8.69 million).

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 driver of the strong increase in full-time employment. For January to March 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 3.5% over the same period. In comparison, the number of women working part-time increased by 3.4% and the number of men working part-time was largely unchanged.

Looking at the estimates for January to March 2020 by type of employment:

  • there were a record 27.96 million paid employees (84.4% of all people in employment), 370,000 more than a year earlier

  • there were 5.00 million self-employed people (15.1% of all people in employment), 69,000 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 January to March 2010 and January to March 2020, the estimated number of women in self-employment has grown by 45.3%. Over this period, the estimated number of men in self-employment has increased by 18.4%. In comparison, the rate of increase for employees has been more modest, with the numbers of women increasing by 13.4% and men increasing by 11.7% (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 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 pandemic would still be classed as employed, however, they would be employed working zero hours. This directly impacted the total actual hours worked in January to March 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 January to March 2019 and January to March 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 12.4 million, or 1.2%, to 1.04 billion hours (Figure 5). This was the largest annual decrease since November 2009 to January 2010. The decrease in total actual weekly hours worked over the year was mainly driven by the decrease in men's total hours worked (down 16.0 million hours).

Average weekly hours fell by 0.8 hours on the year to 31.4 hours. The average weekly hours worked by men decreased 1.1 hours to a record low of 35.4 hours, while women's hours decreased 0.4 hours to 27 hours.

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that this fall was mostly caused by to the decrease in hours in the last week of March, with a much smaller decrease in the previous week. In the final week of March, the total number of hours worked was around 25% fewer than in other weeks within the quarter. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month article.

Despite only the final week of March being affected by the decrease in actual hours worked, the initial impact on different industries can be observed (Figure 6). Between January to March 2019 and January to March 2020, accommodation and food services had the largest decrease of 3.4 hours to 24.9 hours per week, followed by construction, down 2.2 hours to 35.1 hours per week. Human health and social work activities had the smallest annual decrease of 0.1 hours to 29.6 hours per week.

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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 7).

For January to March 2020:

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.9%; 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier and also 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.1%; 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 largely unchanged compared with a year earlier and up by 0.1 percentage points on the quarter

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

Between January to March 2015 and January to March 2020 (Figure 6):

  • the estimated unemployment rate for all people fell from 5.5% to 3.9%

  • the estimated unemployment rate for men fell from 5.7% to 4.1%

  • the estimated unemployment rate for women fell from 5.3% to 3.7%

For January to March 2020, an estimated 1.35 million people were unemployed. This is 50,000 more than a year earlier but 478,000 fewer than five years earlier. The increase on the year is the third annual increase in unemployment since May to July 2012, and it was driven by a 44,000 increase for men.

Looking in more detail at the fall of 478,000 in unemployment over the last five years (Figure 8):

  • the estimated number of people unemployed for up to six months fell by 108,000 to 846,000, but it has increased by 75,000 over the last year

  • for those unemployed for over 6 months and up to 12 months, the number fell by 77,000 to 206,000, 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 294,000 to 295,000

The Claimant Count (Experimental Statistics)

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 criteria. 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 wholly unemployed and seeking work, or may be employed 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.

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

As part of the UK government's response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), a number of enhancements were introduced to UC. These may have increased the number of employed people 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 change in the Claimant Count would be because of changes in the number of people who are unemployed, a certain amount of the change will be because of changes in the number of employed people who are eligible for Universal Credit as part of the government response. We are not able to identify to what extent these two factors have affected the numbers.

The Claimant Count increased in April 2020 to 2.1 million (Figure 10). This represents a monthly increase of 69.1%.

The Claimant Count increased in all UK regions (Figure 11). The region with the largest monthly increase was the South West, which increased by 97.9%, while the West Midlands had the smallest increase of 50.9%.

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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 January to March 2020:

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was a joint record low of 20.2%; this is down by 0.7 percentage points on the year and down by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for men was 16.1%; this is down by 0.3 percentage points on the year and largely unchanged compared with the previous quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for women was a record low of 24.2%; this is down by 1.1 percentage points on the year and down by 0.6 percentage points on the quarter

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

Estimates for January to March 2020 show 8.35 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 256,000 fewer than a year earlier and 678,000 fewer than five years earlier. The annual decrease was mainly among women, with 213,000 fewer than a year earlier to reach a record low of 5.04 million.

The estimated fall of 678,000 in economic inactivity over the last five years was largely among women, with a decrease of 596,000. 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 496,000 to a record low of 1.78 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 January to March 2020, the share had decreased to 21.4% and it was the third most common reason, behind students (25.7%) and the long-term sick (25.1%).

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7. Employment in the UK data

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A05 SA | Released 19 May 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 19 May 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 19 May 2020
Estimates for the hours that people in employment work in the UK.

Unemployment by age and duration
Dataset UNEM01 SA | Released 19 May 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 19 May 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 19 May 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 (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 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.

Ahead of the previous labour market statistics release, David Freeman, head of labour market statistics at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), looked at how the ONS is responding to the pressing need for new information in his blog, Measuring the labour market during coronavirus. On 6 May, the ONS published an article, Coronavirus and the effects on UK labour market statistics, looking at the expected impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) upon the UK labour market and some of the practical challenges that we are likely to face in collecting data.

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.

Data in this statistical bulletin and accompanying datasets relate to LFS interviews that took place throughout the period from the start of January to the end of March 2020. Consequently, most interviews relate to the period prior to the implementation of coronavirus social distancing measures. Interviews in the final week of March relate to the period following the government closure of schools, introduction of lockdown and announcement of measures aimed at protecting businesses and jobs.

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 use telephone interviewing exclusively for all waves. This caused a significant drop in wave 1 response, for weeks 11, 12 and 13, because of difficulty in obtaining telephone numbers to conduct those interviews. There was also some reduction in response for waves 2 to 5. Initially, from week 11 of the quarter, less than half of the normal wave 1 sample size was achieved, and around 80% of the normal wave 2 to 5 samples.

New measures have been introduced to improve the availability of telephone numbers, which has increased sample sizes during April, although they are still below normal Labour Force Survey sample sizes.

Impact of the coronavirus on survey weighting methodology

Because of the impact on data collection, weeks 11, 12 and 13 had smaller achieved sample sizes than other weeks within the quarter. To mitigate this impact on estimates for the quarter 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 Staristics (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