Labour market overview, UK: March 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:
17 March 2020

Next release:
21 April 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

  • The UK employment rate in the three months to January 2020 was estimated at a joint record high of 76.5%, 0.4 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.3 percentage points up on the previous quarter.

  • The UK unemployment rate in the three months to January 2020 was estimated at 3.9%, largely unchanged compared with a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter.

  • Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in the three months to January 2020 was 3.1% for both total pay (including bonuses) and regular pay (excluding bonuses).

  • In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in both total pay and regular pay is estimated to be 1.5% in the three months to January 2020, down from a recent peak of 2.0% in the three months to June 2019.

  • In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 1.4% and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 1.8% in the three months to January 2020.

  • There were an estimated 817,000 vacancies in the UK for December 2019 to February 2020; this is 19,000 more than the previous quarter but 30,000 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. Recent increases have largely been caused by increases in the employment rate for women (Figure 1). For November 2019 to January 2020:

  • the estimated employment rate for people was at a joint record high of 76.5%; this is 0.4 percentage points up on the year and 0.3 percentage points up on the quarter

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

  • the estimated employment rate for women was at a record high of 72.5%; this is 0.7 percentage points up on the year and 0.5 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. However, since the equalisation of the State Pension age, the employment rate for women has continued to rise.

Estimates for November 2019 to January 2020 show a record 32.99 million people aged 16 years and over in employment; this is 271,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly caused by full-time workers (up 345,000 on the year to a record high of 24.46 million), women in employment (up 262,000 to a record high of 15.66 million) and workers aged between 50 and 64 years (up 168,000 to 9.31 million). The annual increase in employment was partly offset by the largest decrease for part-time employees since August to October 2011 (down 127,000 on the year to 6.91 million).

There was a 184,000 increase in employment on the quarter. This was, again, mainly caused by full-time workers (up 225,000; this is the largest quarterly increase on record) and women in employment (up 171,000; this is the largest quarterly increase on record). The quarterly increase for women working full-time (up 179,000 to a record high of 9.35 million) was also the largest on record.

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 (Figure 2).

For November 2019 to January 2020:

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.9%; this is largely unchanged compared with a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.1%; this is 0.1 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 3.7%; this is down 0.2 percentage points on the year but up 0.1 percentage points on the quarter

For November 2019 to January 2020, an estimated 1.34 million people were unemployed. This is 5,000 more than a year earlier but 515,000 fewer than five years earlier. The small increase on the year is the first annual increase in unemployment since May to July 2012, and it was caused by a 20,000 increase for men.

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

For people aged between 16 and 64 years, for November 2019 to January 2020:

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was at a record low of 20.4%; this is down 0.3 percentage points on the year and down 0.4 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for men was 16.0%; this is largely unchanged on the year but down 0.2 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for women was at a record low of 24.7%; this is down 0.7 percentage points both on the year and on the quarter

Estimates for November 2019 to January 2020 show 8.43 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 118,000 fewer than a year earlier and 614,000 fewer than five years earlier. The annual decrease was caused by women, with the level down by 129,000 to reach a record low of 5.13 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. In April to June 2019, it reached 4.0% for total pay and 3.9% for regular pay, the highest nominal pay growth rates since 2008. However, since then growth has slowed. In November 2019 to January 2020, it stood at 3.1% for both total pay and regular pay.

In real terms, annual pay growth has been positive since the three months to February 2018. This means that during that period, pay has been growing faster than inflation. Growth in real terms for both total pay and regular pay reached a recent peak of 2.0% in the three months to June 2019. It has since dropped to 1.5% in the three months to January 2020.

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, reaching a record high of 861,000 in November 2018 to January 2019. For December 2019 to February 2020, there were an estimated 817,000 vacancies in the UK; this is 19,000 more than for the previous quarter (September to November 2019) but 30,000 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 17 March 2020
Estimates of employment, unemployment and other employment-related statistics for the UK.

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A02 SA | Released 17 March 2020
Estimates of UK employment, unemployment and economic inactivity for people aged 16 years and over and people aged between 16 and 64 years based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Average weekly earnings
Dataset EARN01 | Released 17 March 2020
Estimates of Great Britain earnings growth based on the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey.

Vacancies by industry
Dataset VACS02 | Released 17 March 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 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 (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

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.

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 Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) reports:

Future publication dates

Because of a public holiday in Northern Ireland, the July 2020 and July 2021 labour market publication dates have both been moved two days later. This change will ensure that users across the UK have the same access to advice from the teams who produce the statistics on the day of release. For further information, please see Statement on changing the release dates of ONS statistics to avoid public holidays.

21 April 2020
19 May 2020
16 June 2020
16 July 2020
11 August 2020
15 September 2020
13 October 2020
10 November 2020
15 December 2020
26 January 2021
23 February 2021
23 March 2021
20 April 2021
18 May 2021
15 June 2021
15 July 2021
17 August 2021
14 September 2021
12 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 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