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UK employment rate reaches record high of 76.5%

The UK employment rate was estimated at a record high of 76.5%, 0.6 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.4 percentage points up on the previous quarter, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. 

Estimates for October to December 2019 show a record 32.93 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 336,000 more than a year earlier. 

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.8%, 0.2 percentage points lower than a year earlier and 0.1 percentage points lower than the previous quarter.

For October to December 2019, an estimated 1.29 million people were unemployed. This is 73,000 fewer than a year earlier and 580,000 fewer than five years earlier.

The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at a record low of 20.5%, 0.4 percentage points lower than the previous year and 0.3 percentage points lower than the previous quarter.

Estimates for October to December 2019 show 8.48 million people aged between 16 and 64 years not in the labour force (economically inactive). This was 155,000 fewer than a year earlier and 587,000 fewer than five years earlier. The annual decrease was driven by women, with the level down 163,000 to reach a record low of 5.16 million.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain slowed to 2.9% from 3.2% last month for total pay (including bonuses) and to 3.2% from 3.4% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

Sophie Wingfield, head of policy and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, commented, “Today’s figures show a jobs market that is growing in confidence, putting record numbers of people in work. That’s great news for recruiters and the economy. Following a year of political and economic uncertainty, businesses are putting into action the ambitious hiring plans they had previously been cautious to press go on. The challenge now is to keep this momentum going.

“The government should take care in what is a crucial ten months ahead. Delaying the ill-conceived IR35 tax changes to 2021 to ensure they can be properly and fairly implemented is extremely urgent. The flexible labour market is already being stifled, and that’s not good for employers or our economy.

“Today’s increase in vacancy numbers means that as businesses start to look for more staff, an evidence-based immigration system will be crucial to supplying the skills that are needed across the economy. A sensible immigration plan that allows employers to recruit from abroad for sectors such as construction, health and technology where skills shortages are high is essential.”

Pawel Adrjan, UK economist at Indeed, said, “Britain’s labour market has lost none of its momentum nor its ability to surprise. Another month of breathless progress has seen it power to a new record level of employment and push average wages up once again.

“Amid all the back-patting that this latest jobs data will trigger, it’s worth calling out a small but significant milestone. Average earnings, in real terms, have finally edged past the peak they reached in the pre-crisis days of 2008.

“For all its positives, this is far from a ‘straight A’ jobs report. At 3.2%, the annual pace of wage growth is slowing and remains relatively modest. 

“GDP stagnated in the final quarter of 2019, and flatlining economic growth bodes ill for the prospect of future pay rises.

“But these concerns aside, there is real momentum here. More people are in work than ever before, and the number of job vacancies is rising, as the labour market continues to generate new job opportunities and tempt more people back into the labour force.”

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