2. Main points

  • As part of continuing work to improve Labour Force Survey estimates (which have been affected by changes to survey operation caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic), weighting methodology, improving the UK, EU and non-EU born population estimates, will be implemented from 15 July 2021, for periods from January to March 2020.

  • The impact on headline measures of rates is relatively small but there is a larger impact on estimates of levels and changes in levels.

  • Because the new methodology takes account of geographical area, the impact is not consistent across each of the countries of the UK.

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3. Overview of Labour Force Survey reweighting

Following changes to the way the Labour Force Survey (LFS) operates, resulting from the pandemic, we have had to make changes to the way we weight the survey to account for the impact that these changes have on estimates.

In May 2021, an article was published regarding Labour Force Survey weighting methodology. This article gave details of further improvements planned, making use of information from the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Real Time Information (RTI) system to provide estimated population weights, with the intention to apply in labour market publications from July 2021.

In an article about the reweighting on LFS key indicators, published today, we look at how this methodology is applied and the impact it has on the main UK headline labour market measures.

This article gives some indication of the impact these changes have on estimates for the individual countries of the UK.

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4. Methodology

The new methodology uses new modelled population totals for UK, EU and non-EU country of birth as its weighting control totals. The new population totals used in LFS weighting are obtained by applying year-on-year growth rates by country of birth (UK, EU, non-EU) to the 2019 LFS estimates. These growths are applied for different area groups within the UK, meaning that the impact will vary by region.

The following chart shows how the growth in the population weights previously used has been affected by the new estimates.

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5. Impact of reweighting on key indicators

Figures 2 to 4 show the main labour market series giving the indicative impact of applying the new weights. The full range of labour market outputs taking this into account will become available over the coming months as part of our normal release schedules, starting with the release on 15 July 2021.

We have said previously that these improvements would be likely to have a larger impact on the estimates of levels and therefore changes in levels over the course of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Estimates of rates were considered more robust and likely to be less impacted. As with the UK figures, this is also the case for the countries of the UK.

Indicative estimates suggest that there has been very little change in the employment rate estimates for Wales or Scotland resulting from the new methodology. Employment rates for England appear to have been a little more affected, resulting in a lower employment rate, whereas indicative estimates suggest a small increase in the employment rate for Northern Ireland.

Again, as with employment rates, indicative estimates suggest little change to the unemployment rates for Wales or Scotland. However, in contrast to employment, for unemployment the small revisions increase the rate for England and decrease the rate for Northern Ireland.

Finally, for economic inactivity, again the indicative estimates suggest there has been little impact on the rates for Scotland and Wales. However, in England there has been a small increase in the rate, with a decrease in the rate for Northern Ireland.

While impacts on rates appear to be very small, the indicative impacts on levels in each of the regions are much larger. Table 1 gives an indication of the impact on the estimates of the levels for each of the countries in the three-month period October to December 2020.

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6. Future developments

On 15 July 2021, we intend to publish the normal tables that are released monthly as part of the labour market release, using the new and improved population and methodology basis. In addition, we will publish tables covering labour market status by country of birth, nationality, ethnicity and disability. These tables will include estimates of levels, which had been suspended awaiting reweighting.

On 17 August, we intend to update the remaining Labour Force Survey (LFS) tables in the labour market release that are normally published on a quarterly basis, including figures relating to industry, socio-economic classification, earnings and labour market flows.

To allow us to facilitate these changes, we will not release Annual Population Survey (APS) estimates for April 2020 to March 2021 in July as would normally be the case. Instead, these will be released when the APS is reweighted. Following the July and August releases, we intend to update our outputs that make use of the APS for our September release, and household versions of our datasets in the subsequent months.

The new estimates, in particular regarding the size of the levels and changes, constitute an improvement in the LFS estimates compared with those previously published. However, the population figures involved are still based on partial information and may be further refined when more data become available.

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Contact details for this Article

Bob Watson
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455070