UK employment hits record high – but wages and skills remain a concern

Employment & Skills | Latest News | National

Employment rates in the UK have hit a new record high – and the growth in self-employment and the number of women working full time are behind the rise, according to new statistics.

A new Office for National Statistics (ONS) employment bulletin, published today and covering data for November, shows UK employment rate was at estimated 76.3%.

This amounts to a 0.6% rise on the same period 12 months earlier, and o.5% up on the preceding quarter.

It total, a record 32.9 million people aged 16 and over are now in employment; 359,000 more than a year earlier.

In contrast, unemployment rates stood at just 3.8%, 0.2% down on a year earlier, and the nation’s economic inactivity rate of 20.6% was also a record low.

Commenting on today’s figures, ONS head of labour market and households David Freeman said: “The employment rate is at a new record high, with over two-thirds of the growth in people in work in the last year coming from women working full-time.

“Self-employment has also been growing strongly, and the number of people working for themselves has now passed five million for the first time ever.

“While pay growth has eased since last summer, with inflation remaining subdued, earnings are continuing to increase in real terms.”

The rate of growth for woman working full time has been consistently higher than men in recent years, with women behind the strong increase in full-time employment – indeed, the number of women working full time between September and November 2019 has increased by 9.1% in compared to just five years earlier.

Much of this growth is thought to have been driven by changes to the state pension age for women, resulting in fewer women retiring between the ages of 60 to 65.

The ONS data also revealed there are currently an estimated 805,000 vacancies in the UK – 11,000 fewer than the previous quarter and 49,000 fewer than a year earlier.

Tej Parikh, Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, says that although the labour statistics are encouraging, difficulties in recruitment and wage stagnation mean there remain some areas of concern.

He said: “The UK labour market remains in fine shape, with a renewed surge in jobs growth providing uplift for the economy.

“Businesses have been eager to recruit over recent years, and higher employment levels have in turn supported household incomes.

“However, many positions remain unfilled, and as it becomes harder to find matches for particular roles, firms will increasingly look to close vacancies and tone down their hiring plans.

“The other side of the coin is pay. Wage growth has disappointed in recent months, but with inflation also weakening, consumers’ spending power should not be overly impacted.

“In particular, small businesses have been struggling to raise salaries to attract new staff, and they will be hoping for cost-cutting measures at the March Budget, alongside more investment in the UK’s gummed-up skills system.”

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