Labour market overview, UK: January 2020

Estimates of employment, unemployment, economic inactivity and other employment-related statistics for the UK.

This is the latest release. View previous releases

This is an accredited national statistic.

Contact:
Email Debra Leaker

Release date:
21 January 2020

Next release:
18 February 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 September to November 2019

  • The UK employment rate was estimated at a record high of 76.3%, 0.6 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.5 percentage points up on the previous quarter.

  • The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.8%, 0.2 percentage points lower than a year earlier but largely unchanged on the previous quarter.

  • The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at a record low of 20.6%, 0.4 percentage points lower than the previous year and the previous quarter.

  • Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain remained unchanged at 3.2% for total pay (including bonuses) and slowed to 3.4% from 3.5% for regular pay (excluding bonuses); the annual growth in total pay was weakened by unusually high bonus payments paid in October 2018 compared with more typical average bonus payments paid in October 2019.

  • In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 1.6%, and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 1.8%.

  • There were an estimated 805,000 vacancies in the UK for October to December 2019; this is 11,000 fewer than the previous quarter and 49,000 fewer than a year earlier.

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The data in this bulletin come from surveys of households and businesses. It is not possible to survey every household and business each month, so these statistics are estimates based on samples.

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3. Employment

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

Estimated employment rates for people aged between 16 and 64 years have generally been increasing since early 2012 but have levelled off in recent periods (as seen in Figure 1). For September to November 2019:

  • the estimated employment rate for people was a record high of 76.3%; this is 0.6 percentage points up on the year and 0.5 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 up on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for women was a record high of 72.3%; this is 1.1 percentage points up on the year and a joint record high of 0.7 percentage points up on the quarter

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.

Estimates for September to November 2019 show a record 32.90 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 359,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly driven by full-time workers (up 349,000 on the year to a record high of 24.36 million) and women (up 317,000 on the year to a record high of 15.58 million). The annual increase in women working full-time (up 245,000 to a record high of 9.26 million) was the largest since February to April 2017.

More information about employment can be found in the Employment in the UK bulletin, published alongside this release.

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4. 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 (as seen in Figure 5).

For September to November 2019:

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.8%, 0.2 percentage points lower than a year earlier but largely unchanged on the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.0%, 0.1 percentage points lower than a year earlier but largely unchanged on the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for women was 3.6%, down 0.4 percentage points on the year and down 0.1 percentage points on the quarter

For September to November 2019, an estimated 1.31 million people were unemployed. This is 64,000 fewer than a year earlier and 618,000 fewer than five years earlier.

More information about unemployment can be found in the Employment in the UK bulletin, published alongside this release.

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5. 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 been generally falling (although it increased during recessions). This is because of a gradual fall in the economic inactivity rate for women.

For people aged between 16 and 64 years, for September to November 2019:

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was a record low of 20.6%, down 0.4 percentage points on the year and on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for men was 16.2%, largely unchanged on the year but down 0.2 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for women was a record low of 24.9%, down 0.8 percentage points on the year and down 0.6 percentage points on the quarter

Estimates for September to November 2019 show 8.51 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 145,000 fewer than a year earlier and 587,000 fewer than five years earlier. The annual decrease was driven by women, with the level down 157,000 to reach a record low of 5.18 million.

More information about economic inactivity can be found in the Employment in the UK bulletin, published alongside this release.

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6. Earnings growth

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The earnings estimates are not just a measure of pay rises as they also reflect changes in the number of paid hours worked and changes in the structure of the workforce, for example, more high-paid jobs would have an upward effect on earnings growth rates.

The rate of pay growth trended upwards from spring 2017, reaching 3.9% in May to July 2019, the highest nominal pay growth rate since 2008. However, in September to November 2019, growth dropped to 3.2% for total pay and 3.4% for regular pay. The growth in total pay is impacted downwards by unusually high bonuses having been paid in October 2018, whereas those in October 2019 are at more typical levels.

In real terms, annual pay growth has been positive since December 2017 to February 2018 and is now 1.6% for total pay (compared with 1.5% last month) and 1.8% for regular pay (unchanged from last month).

More information about earnings growth can be found in the Average weekly earnings in Great Britain bulletin, published alongside this release.

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7. Vacancies

The estimated number of vacancies in the UK fell sharply during the recession of 2008 to 2009. Since 2012, it has generally increased, although it has been falling since early 2019. For October to December 2019, there were an estimated 805,000 vacancies in the UK, 11,000 fewer than for the previous quarter (July to September 2019) and 49,000 fewer than for the previous year.

More information about vacancies can be found in the Vacancies and jobs in the UK bulletin, published alongside this release.

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8. Labour market data

Summary of labour market statistics
Dataset A01 | Released 21 January 2020
Estimates of employment, unemployment and other employment-related statistics for the UK.

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A02 SA | Released 21 January 2020
Estimates of UK employment, unemployment and economic inactivity for people aged 16 years and over and people aged from 16 to 64 years based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Average weekly earnings
Dataset EARN01 | Released 21 January 2020
Estimates of Great Britain earnings growth based on the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey.

Vacancies by industry
Dataset VACS02 | Released 21 January 2020
Estimates of the number of UK job vacancies for each industry, based on a survey of businesses.

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9. Glossary

Average weekly earnings

Average weekly earnings measures money paid by employers to employees in Great Britain before tax and other deductions from pay. The estimates are not just a measure of pay rises as they also reflect, for example, changes in the overall structure of the workforce. More high-paid jobs in the economy would have an upward effect on the earnings growth rate.

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 between 16 and 64 years who are not in the labour force.

Employment

Employment measures the number of people in paid work, or 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 (those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who are unemployed.

Vacancies

Vacancies are defined as positions for which employers are actively seeking recruits from outside their business or organisation. The estimates are based on the Vacancy Survey – a survey of businesses designed to provide estimates of the stock of vacancies across the economy, excluding agriculture, forestry and fishing (a small sector for which the collection of estimates would not be practical).

A more detailed Glossary is available.

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10. Measuring the data

The employment, unemployment and economic inactivity estimates rely on data collected from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) (a survey run by field interviewers with people across the UK every month).

The LFS performance and quality monitoring reports provide data on response rates and other quality related issues for the LFS, including breakdowns of response by LFS wave, region and question-specific response issues. The average weekly earnings and vacancies estimates rely on data collected from surveys of employers.

More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the following QMIs:

Upcoming changes

The seasonal adjustment parameters used to calculate average weekly earnings (AWE) estimates will be reviewed prior to the next UK labour market release (18 February 2020). This is an annual process, as outlined in the Average weekly earnings QMI. The review may lead to revisions to the historic AWE time series extending back throughout the entire time series.

2021 publication dates

26 January 2021
23 February 2021
23 March 2021
20 April 2021
18 May 2021
15 June 2021
13 July 2021
17 August 2021
14 September 2021
21 October 2021
16 November 2021
14 December 2021

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11. Strengths and limitations

Accuracy of the statistics: estimating and reporting uncertainty

The figures in this bulletin come from surveys, which gather information from a sample 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 quite small subsets of the Labour Force Survey (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.

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

Where to find data about uncertainty and reliability

Dataset A11 shows sampling variabilities for estimates derived from the LFS.

Sampling variability information for average weekly earnings growth rates is available from the “Sampling Variability” worksheets within datasets EARN01 and EARN03.

The sampling variability of the three-month average vacancies level is around plus or minus 1.5% of that level. Information on revisions is available in the labour market statistics revisions policy.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

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