Employment in the UK: September 2020

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

This is the latest release. View previous releases

15 September 2020

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

This will protect the delivery and quality of our remaining labour market outputs as well as ensuring we can respond to new demands as a direct result of the coronavirus. More details about the impact on labour market outputs can be found in our statement.

This is an accredited National Statistic. Click for information about types of official statistics.

Contact:
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Release date:
15 September 2020

Next release:
13 October 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 May to July 2020

  • May to July figures show an increase in the unemployment rate; despite this increase and an increase in the number of redundancies, the employment rate is still not falling.

  • Though still large, the reductions in total hours worked both on the year and the quarter are smaller than last month, with the May to July period covering a time when some of the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown measures started to be eased.

  • The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.5%, 0.4 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.1 percentage point higher than the previous quarter.

  • The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 4.1%, 0.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter.

  • The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at a joint record low of 20.2%, 0.6 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 866.0 million, down 183.8 million hours on the previous year and down 93.9 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 May to the end of July 2020. Interviews during the whole of May, June and July relate to the period following the start of lockdown and government measures aimed at protecting businesses and jobs during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, along with the start of easing of some of those measures.

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.

Due to Covid-19 and the suspension of face to face interviewing on 17 March, we had to make operational changes to the Labour Force Survey, particularly in the way that we contact households for interview, which moved to a "by telephone" approach. These changes have resulted in a response where certain characteristics have not been as well represented as previously. This is evidenced in a change in the balance of type of household that we are reaching. In particular, the proportion of households where people own their homes in the sample has increased and rented accommodation households has decreased. At this point in time we cannot fully quantify this, but initial analysis produced by introducing weighting by tenure type indicate that our headline figures might be slightly impacted by the changes, but within the bounds of statistical variation. Further investigations are being carried out and will be presented in the form of an article.

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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.

The estimated employment rate for people aged between 16 and 64 years has generally been increasing since early 2012, largely driven by an increase in the employment rate for women (Figure 1).

For May to July 2020:

  • the estimated employment rate for all people was 76.5%; this is 0.4 percentage points up on the year and 0.1 percentage points up on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for men was 80.2%; this is 0.1 percentage points down on the year but 0.1 percentage points up on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for women was at a joint record high of 72.9%; this is 0.8 percentage points up on the year and 0.2 percentage points up 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.

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the employment rate remained relatively steady through July. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single-month and weekly Labour Force Survey estimates 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, though weakened due to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Estimates for May to July 2020 show 32.98 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 202,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly driven by women in employment (up by 194,000 on the year to 15.71 million).

Employment decreased by 12,000 on the quarter; men in employment increased by 22,000, while women in employment decreased by 34,000. The small quarterly decrease in employment was the result of large decreases in employment for young and older workers (people aged 16 to 24 years and those aged 65 years and over), the self-employed and part-time workers being almost completely offset by increases in employment for workers aged 25 to 64 years and full-time employees.

Age group

Looking more closely at the change in employment over the quarter by age group (Figure 2), those aged 16 to 24 years decreased by 156,000 to 3.63 million (with a record decrease of 146,000 for those aged 18 to 24 years), while those aged 65 years and over decreased by 92,000 to 1.28 million (with a record decrease of 79,000 for women in that age group). In contrast, there was a combined increase of 236,000 on the quarter for those aged 25 to 64 years, to 28.07 million (with a record increase of 67,000 for women in the 25 to 34 years age group).

Full-time and part-time

Looking at the split between full-time and part-time employment (Figure 3), the number of full-time workers has continued to increase whereas the number of part-time workers has fallen. Full-time workers have increased by 484,000 on the year, and a record 260,000 on the quarter, to a record high of 24.66 million (with the latter mainly driven by a record quarterly increase for women). In contrast, the number of part-time workers decreased by 281,000 on the year, and 272,000 on the quarter, to 8.32 million (mainly driven by record decreases for women).

Employees and self-employed

Looking at the estimates for May to July 2020 by type of employment (Figure 4), the number of self-employed has shown a sharp fall over the last quarter, which is not reflected in employees:

  • there were a record 28.09 million employees (85.2% of all people in employment), 159,000 more than the previous quarter (driven by a record 185,000 increase for men)

  • there were 4.75 million self-employed people (14.4% of all people in employment), 154,000 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.

While the Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimate of self-employment is showing decreases, the number of employees in employment continues to increase in May to July 2020, with the number of full-time employees increasing by a record of 382,000 on the quarter and reaching a record high level of 21.31 million. Meanwhile, experimental monthly statistics of paid employees from HM Revenue and Customs' (HMRC's) Real Time Information (RTI) data suggest that the number of employees on payroll fell by approximately 659,000 between March and July 2020.

Employment status on the LFS is self-reported, with people classifying themselves as being either an employee or self-employed. In April to June 2020 we saw that some of the fall in self-employment comes from an increase in the number of people who had changed to classifying themselves as an employee, even though they have not changed jobs. This change in self-classification also contributed to the continued increase in the number of employees. Analysis suggests that this trend continues in May to July 2020.

Looking more closely at the quarterly increase in men's employment (Figure 5), full-time employee men (up by a record 196,000 to a record high of 12.61 million) are the drivers of the increase, which was largely offset by a decrease for full-time self-employed men (down by 144,000 to 2.45 million). The quarterly decrease in women's employment was mainly driven by part-time employee women (down by a record 212,000 to 5.24 million), which was largely offset by an increase for full-time employee women (up by a record 186,000 to a record high of 8.69 million).

Hours worked

Since estimates began in 1971 up until the introduction of the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown measures, 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 May to July 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. With the easing of lockdown restrictions in July and changes to the furlough scheme, the estimates show an increase for hours worked in May to July 2020 in comparison with April to June 2020. This was driven by increases in the hours worked during July compared with April seen in the experimental weekly LFS figures (Single-month and weekly Labour Force Survey estimates article).

Between February to April 2020 and May to July 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 93.9 million, or 9.8%, to 866.0 million hours (Figure 6). The decrease in total actual weekly hours worked over the quarter was mainly driven by the decrease in men's total hours worked (down 57.4 million hours), but there was also a large decrease in women's total hours worked (down 36.5 million hours).

Average actual weekly hours worked fell by 2.8 hours on the quarter to 26.3 hours. The average weekly hours worked by men decreased by 3.4 hours to 29.6 hours, while women's hours decreased by 2.3 hours to 22.5 hours.

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the average number of weekly hours worked started to slowly increase in July. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single-month and weekly Labour Force Survey estimates article.

Between May to July 2019 and May to July 2020, average actual weekly hours worked fell by 5.8 hours. Decreases were observed 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 15.4 hours to 13.5 hours per week in May to July 2020, followed by other services, which was down 10.7 hours to 18.6 hours per week. Other services are made up of arts, entertainment and recreation, households as employers, and other service activities, including personal service activities. Public administration, defence and social security had the smallest annual decrease, of 0.8 hours, to 31.7 hours per week (Figure 7).

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 understated the reduction in the actual numbers of hours worked by approximately 2% to 3%. The difference between the imputation methods has narrowed significantly because imputed hours for July are based on April figures which were low due to lockdown.

Figure 7 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 2.1 hours compared with the original imputation method, to an average of 11.4 hours a week in May to July 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 had generally been falling since late 2013 but have increased over recent periods (Figures 8 and 9).

For May to July 2020:

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 4.1%; this is 0.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.3%; this is 0.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points higher 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 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the unemployment rate increased throughout July. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single-month and weekly Labour Force Survey estimates 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.

For May to July 2020, an estimated 1.4 million people were unemployed, up 104,000 on the year and up 62,000 on the quarter. The annual increase was the largest since February to April 2012. The quarterly increase was mainly driven by an increase for unemployed people aged 18 to 24 years (up 49,000) and people who have been unemployed for up to six months (up 128,000). However, this was offset somewhat by a decrease for people who have been unemployed for over six months (down 66,000).

Looking in more detail at unemployment by age (Figure 10):

  • the estimated number of people unemployed aged 16 to 24 years increased by 76,000 on the year, and 36,000 on the quarter, to 563,000

  • those unemployed aged 25 to 34 years increased by 6,000 on the year, and increased by 16,000 on the quarter, to 271,000

  • unemployment for those aged 35 years and over increased by 22,000 on the year, and 11,000 on the quarter, to 563,000

Looking in more detail at the increase of 104,000 in unemployment over the last year (Figure 11):

  • the estimated number of people unemployed for up to six months increased by 202,000 to 988,000, and was up by 128,000 on the quarter

  • for those unemployed for over six months and up to 12 months, the number fell by 2,000 to 179,000, with a decrease of 27,000 on the quarter

  • long-term unemployment (those unemployed for over one year) was down by 96,000 to 231,000, with a 39,000 decrease on the quarter

The changes in unemployment duration, coupled with movements seen in economic inactivity, may suggest that some of those who had been unemployed for longer periods and had stopped looking for work during the lockdown period may now be searching for work again, leading to an increase in unemployment.

In the LFS, comparing two overlapping periods (for example, May to July 2020 with April to June 2020) is not ideal because two of the months (for example, May and June) are the same in the two periods. However, in what follows, we make such a comparison as this allows us to interpret how the labour market might be evolving since the initial three months of lockdown.

Last month we reported on a group of employees who, because of the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, have reported that they are temporarily away from work and not getting paid. Similarly, there are a group of self-employed people who are temporarily away from work but not eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). Although these people consider themselves to have a job and therefore are consistent with the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition of employment, their lack of income means that they may soon need to look for work unless they are able to return to their job.

It is also possible to identify certain groups who are economically inactive as they are not currently looking for work, but may look for work in the future. These are primarily those who want a job but are not yet looking, but also includes those who report they do not want a job but either do not believe jobs are available, are not yet looking, or are inactive for some other unspecified reason.

Between April to June 2020 and May to July 2020, the number of people in these groups – the inactive who may begin to seek work and those temporarily away from work for coronavirus reasons, without earnings – decreased from 2.13 million to 2.03 million (Figure 12). This decrease in the number of people who are around the fringes of unemployment coupled with the observed increase in unemployment suggests that some of the people who could have potentially been seeking employment in the previous period (April to June 2020) are seeking employment in May to July 2020.

The Claimant Count (Experimental Statistics)

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These Claimant Count statistics relate to 13 August 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 employed or unemployed 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 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.

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 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 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.

The Claimant Count increased in August 2020 to 2.7 million (Figure 13). This represents a monthly increase of 2.8% and an increase of 120.8%, or 1.5 million, since March 2020.

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

For people aged between 16 and 64 years, for May to July 2020 (Figure 15):

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was a joint record low of 20.2%; this is down by 0.6 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 0.2 percentage points on the year and down by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for women was at a record low of 24.1%; this is down by 1.0 percentage point on the year and down by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the economic inactivity rate remained largely steady through July. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single-month and weekly Labour Force Survey estimates 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 (around 0.1 percentage points). Further information can be found in the section on Measuring the data.

Estimates for May to July 2020 show 8.35 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 684,000 fewer than five years earlier and 235,000 fewer than a year earlier.

The estimated fall of 684,000 in economic inactivity over the last five years was largely among women, with a decrease of 588,000. 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.

Economic inactivity has decreased on the quarter by 118,000. This was mainly driven by those aged 25 to 49 years and those who are economically inactive due to looking after family/home or who are long-term sick. However, the decrease was offset somewhat by an increase in economic inactivity for young people (those aged 16 to 24 years).

The quarterly decrease in the level of economic inactivity was largely driven by people aged between 25 to 49 years (Figure 16), with a record decrease for those aged 25 to 34 years (down 117,000 to a record low of 960,000) and the level for those aged 35 to 49 years reaching a record low (1.48 million).  In contrast, the number of economically inactive people aged 16 to 24 years increased by 110,000, with the level reaching a record high of 492,000 for women in that age group.

Looking at the movements in economic inactivity over the last year by reason (Figure 17), we see that the largest decrease was for people looking after family or home (down by a record 363,000 on the year to a record low of 1.64 million), followed by the economically inactive long-term sick (down by 106,000 on the year and by a record 145,000 on the quarter).

The number of economically inactive students and people temporarily sick also decreased on the year (by 37,000 and 26,000 respectively). However, the annual decrease was partially offset by an increase in the number of people who were economically inactive for other reasons (up by 187,000 on the year, and 78,000 on the quarter, to 1.18 million); the number of people in this category rose sharply during the initial phases of the lockdown, but has now shown signs of decreasing from its peak level.

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

Economically inactive discouraged workers also increased by 22,000 on the year and a record 25,000 on the quarter to 62,000, the highest level since March to May 2013 (Figure 18). People in this category are those who are not looking for work because they believe no jobs are available.

Those who are economically inactive and who want a job increased by 81,000 on the year but decreased 54,000 on the quarter, while those who do not want a job decreased by 316,000 on the year and 65,000 on the quarter. The series for those who want a job has fallen back from its recent peak (Figure 19). This suggests that some people who wanted employment but were not looking for work in the previous period are looking for work in the current period, and is a possible further explanation of why we are seeing an increase in unemployment in May to July 2020.

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7. Redundancies

Redundancies increased by 58,000 on the year, and 48,000 on the quarter, to 156,000 (Figure 20). These are the largest annual and quarterly increases seen since 2009. While redundancies are at their highest level since September to November 2012, the level remains well below that seen during the 2008 downturn.

The redundancies 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 doesn't take into consideration planned redundancies.

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8. Employment in the UK data

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A05 SA | Released 15 September 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 15 September 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 15 September 2020
Estimates for the hours that people in employment work in the UK.

Unemployment by age and duration
Dataset UNEM01 SA | Released 15 September 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 15 September 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 15 September 2020
Labour Force Survey (LFS) sampling variability (95% confidence intervals).

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9. 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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10. 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, 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 (around 0.1 percentage points)

  • measures relating to hours in this release understate the reduction in the actual number of hours worked by approximately 2% to 3%

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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11. Strengths and limitations

Uncertainty in this data

The estimates presented in this bulletin contain uncertainty. There are many sources of uncertainty, but the main sources in the information presented include each of the following.

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.

An annual reconciliation report of job estimates is published every March comparing the latest workforce jobs (WFJ) estimates with the equivalent estimates of jobs from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

The concept of employment (measured by the LFS as the number of people in work) differs from the concept of jobs, since a person can have more than one job and some jobs may be shared by more than one person. The LFS, which collects information mainly from residents of private households, is the preferred source of statistics on employment. The WFJ series, which is compiled mainly from surveys of businesses, is the preferred source of statistics on jobs by industry, since it provides a more reliable industry breakdown than the LFS. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic the LFS and WFJ series may have additional differences because a person's perception of their attachment to a job may differ from the business's perception of that job. It is also important to note that LFS is based on interviews throughout the coverage period, whereas the WFJ series relates to a specific date. This difference can be significant in a labour market that is experiencing rapid changes.

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