Employment in the UK: June 2020

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

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16 June 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 COVID-19. 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.

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Dyddiad y datganiad:
16 June 2020

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
16 July 2020

2. Main points for February to April 2020

  • February to April figures show weakening employment rates, with male employees and self-employed seeing reductions; the reduction in total hours worked is a record both on the year and the quarter despite half of the period covered being prior to the implementation of coronavirus (COVID-19) measures.

  • The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.4%, 0.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier but 0.1 percentage points down on the previous quarter.

  • The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%, 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but largely unchanged compared with the previous quarter.

  • The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at 20.5%, 0.3 percentage points lower than the previous year but 0.1 percentage points up on the previous quarter.

  • The total number of weekly hours worked was 959.9 million, down a record 94.2 million hours on the previous year and down a record 91.2 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 February to the end of April 2020. Around half of the interviews relate to the period prior to the start of coronavirus social distancing measures. Interviews in the final week of March and the whole of April relate to the period following the start of lockdown and government measures aimed at protecting businesses and jobs.

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.

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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.

Estimated employment rates for people aged between 16 and 64 years have generally been increasing since early 2012. Recent increases have largely been driven by increases in the employment rate for women (Figure 1). This has continued into the latest results, whilst the employment rate for men has decreased.

For February to April 2020:

  • the estimated employment rate for all people was 76.4%; this is 0.3 percentage points up on the year but 0.1 percentage points down on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for men was 80.1%; this is 0.2 percentage points down on the year and 0.4 percentage points down on the quarter

  • the estimated employment rate for women was 72.7%; this is 0.7 percentage points up on the year and 0.2 percentage points up on the quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the employment rate remained steady through the first half of April, with some possible weakening in the last two weeks. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month 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 employment rate (less than 0.1 percentage points). Further information can be found in the section on Measuring the data.

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 February to April 2020 show 32.99 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 245,000 more than a year earlier (the smallest annual increase since April to June 2012). This annual increase was mainly driven by women in employment (up by 288,000 on the year to 15.74 million), workers aged 50 years and over (up by 200,000 to 10.70 million) and full-time employees (up by 294,000 to a record high of 20.93 million).

There was a 6,000 increase in employment on the quarter. This was mainly driven by women in employment (up 86,000), workers aged 50 years and over (up 47,000), employees (up 168,000 to 27.93 million), and part-time workers (up 74,000 to 8.60 million). Men in employment (down by 80,000 to 17.25 million) and full-time self-employed workers (down a record 142,000 to 3.41 million) largely offset the increase.

Looking at the estimates for February to April 2020 by type of employment:

  • there were 27.93 million paid employees (84.7% of all people in employment), 263,000 more than a year earlier

  • there were 4.90 million self-employed people (14.9% of all people in employment), 11,000 fewer than a year earlier

The annual decrease for self-employed workers was the first since August to October 2018. In terms of quarterly change, there was a record decrease in the number of self-employed workers (down 131,000) (Figure 2).

Men in employment have seen the largest quarterly decrease since July to September 2011. Looking at this more closely, full-time self-employed men (down a record 133,000 to 2.60 million) are the main drivers of the decrease (Figure 3). 

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.

Over the last year, there was an increase in the employment level for all age groups, except those aged between 16 and 24 years, who experienced an annual decrease (down 25,000 to 3.78 million). Those aged between 35 and 49 years experienced a quarterly decrease in employment levels (down 12,000 to 10.88 million) together with those in the 16 to 24 years age band (down 36,000).

Although there have been a mix of increases and decreases compared with the previous quarter, all age bands show some weakness in the latest estimates compared with recent figures (Figure 4).

Hours worked

Since estimates began in 1971, 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 pandemic would still be classed as employed, however, they would be employed working no hours. This directly impacted the total actual hours worked in February to April 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.

Between February to April 2019 and February to April 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 94.2 million, or 8.9%, to 959.9 million hours (Figure 5). This was the largest annual decrease since estimates began in 1971, with total hours dropping to its lowest level since April to June 2013. The decrease in total actual weekly hours worked over the year was mainly driven by the decrease in men's total hours worked (down a record 60.3 million hours), but there was also a large fall in women’s total hours worked (down a record 33.9 million hours).

Average actual weekly hours fell by a record 3.1 hours on the year to a record low of 29.1 hours; this was the first time the average has dropped below 30 hours since records began. The average weekly hours worked by men decreased a record 3.4 hours to a record low of 33.0 hours, while women's hours decreased a record 2.7 hours to a record low of 24.8 hours.

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the average number of weekly hours worked remained low throughout April. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month 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 understated the reduction in the actual numbers of hours worked by approximately 2 to 3%. Further information can be found in the section on Measuring the data.

Between February to April 2019 and February to April 2020, the largest decrease in average actual weekly hours was in the accommodation and food services industry, with a decrease of 6.9 hours to 21.2 hours per week, followed by construction, down 5.5 hours to 31.7 hours per week. Human health and social work activities had the smallest annual decrease, of 1.1 hours, to 28.7 hours per week (Figure 6).

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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 have generally been falling since late 2013 but have levelled off in recent periods (Figure 7).

For February to April 2020:

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.9%; 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but largely unchanged compared with the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.1%; this is 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but largely unchanged compared with the previous quarter

  • the estimated UK unemployment rate for women was 3.7%; this is largely unchanged compared with a year earlier and also compared with the previous quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the unemployment rate throughout April was broadly consistent with other weeks within the quarter. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month 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.

Between February to April 2015 and February to April 2020 (Figure 8):

  • the estimated unemployment rate for all people fell from 5.5% to 3.9%

  • the estimated unemployment rate for men fell from 5.7% to 4.1%

  • the estimated unemployment rate for women fell from 5.2% to 3.7%

For February to April 2020, an estimated 1.34 million people were unemployed. This is 31,000 more than a year earlier but 478,000 fewer than five years earlier. The increase on the year is the fourth annual increase in unemployment since May to July 2012. It was driven by unemployed people aged under 25 years (up 48,000) and people who have been unemployed for up to six months (up 82,000, the largest annual increase since October to December 2011). However, this was offset somewhat by a 77,000 decrease for people who have been unemployed for over 12 months.

Looking in more detail at the fall of 478,000 in unemployment over the last five years (Figure 9):

  • the estimated number of people unemployed for up to six months fell by 89,000 to 860,000, but it has increased by 82,000 over the last year

  • for those unemployed for over six months and up to 12 months, the number fell by 84,000 to 206,000, but it has been broadly flat for the last three years

  • the largest fall was for long-term unemployment (those unemployed for over one year), which was down by 304,000 to a record low of 270,000

The Claimant Count (Experimental Statistics)

The Claimant Count is an Experimental Statistic that seeks to measure the number of people claiming benefit principally for the reason of being unemployed.

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These Claimant Count statistics relate to 14 May 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.

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.

Consequently, while some of any movement in the Claimant Count would be because of changes in the number of people who become unemployed, a certain amount of the movement will be because of changes in the number of employed people who are eligible for Universal Credit as part of the government response. We are not able to identify to what extent these two factors have affected the numbers.

As part of the UK government's response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), 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 become unemployed, a certain amount of the movement will be because of changes in the number of employed people who are eligible for Universal Credit 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 May 2020 to 2.8 million (Figure 10). This represents a monthly increase of 23.3% and an increase of 125.9%, or 1.6 million, since March 2020.

The Claimant Count increased in all UK regions between March and May 2020 (Figure 11). The region with the largest overall percentage increase was the South East, which increased by 175.7% overall, 107.9% in April and 67.7% in May compared with the March level. The North East had the lowest overall percentage increase of 71.7% overall, 59.5% in April and 12.2% in May compared with the March level.

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

For people aged between 16 and 64 years, for February to April 2020:

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was 20.5%; this is down by 0.3 percentage points on the year but up by 0.1 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for men was 16.4%; this is up by 0.2 percentage points on the year and up by 0.4 percentage points on the quarter

  • the estimated economic inactivity rate for women was 24.4%; this is down by 0.8 percentage points on the year and down by 0.2 percentage points on the quarter

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks suggest that the economic inactivity rate remained steady through the first half of April, with some possible increase in the last two weeks. Further details of the experimental weekly figures can be found in the Single month 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 (less than 0.1 percentage points). Further information can be found in the section on Measuring the data.

Estimates for February to April 2020 show 8.47 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 111,000 fewer than a year earlier and 576,000 fewer than five years earlier. The annual decrease was driven by women (down 156,000 to 5.08 million) and people aged 18 to 34 years (down 158,000). However, the number of economically inactive men increased by 45,000 over the year.

The estimated fall of 576,000 in economic inactivity over the last five years was largely among women, with a decrease of 549,000. 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.

Looking at the fall in economic inactivity over the last year by reason (Figure 13), we see that the largest decrease was for people looking after the family or home (down by a record 263,000 to a joint record low of 1.78 million), followed by economically inactive students (down a record 132,000). However, it was partially offset by an increase in people who are long-term sick (up 116,000) and an increase in the number of people who were economically inactive for other reasons (up a record 121,000 on the year to a record high of 1.11 million).

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

Estimates for February to April 2020 show a quarterly increase of 39,000 in the number of people who are economically inactive in the UK. This was mainly driven by men who were economically inactive because of other reasons (up a record 118,000 to a record high of 512,000) (Figure 14).

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7. Employment in the UK data

Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity
Dataset A05 SA | Released 16 June 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 16 June 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 16 June 2020
Estimates for the hours that people in employment work in the UK.

Unemployment by age and duration
Dataset UNEM01 SA | Released 16 June 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 16 June 2020
Estimates of those not in the UK labour force measured by the reasons given for inactivity.

Labour Force Survey sampling variability
Dataset A11 | Released 16 June 2020
Labour Force Survey (LFS) sampling variability (95% confidence intervals).

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8. 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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9. 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 (COVID-19)

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 has increased sample sizes during April, 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.

Due to 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 (less than 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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10. Strengths and limitations

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.

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

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Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Bwletin ystadegol

Bob Watson
labour.market@ons.gov.uk
Ffôn: +44 (0)1633 455070