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Employment rate reaches highs of 76.6% before COVID-19 impact

The ONS has released the latest employment figures for the three months to February 2020. This was before social distancing measures came into effect in response to COVID-19.


The UK employment rate was estimated to be at 76.6%, a record high. This is up 0.4% on the previous year and 0.2% on the previous quarter. Estimates for the quarter from December 2019 to February 2020 suggest that there were 33.07m people aged between 16 and above in employment. There was a 172,000 increase in employment during the quarter. These increase


The UK unemployment rate was up slightly on the previous quarter to 4.0% but was largely unchanged on the previous year. Between December 2019 and February 2020, it is estimated that there were around 1.36m people who were unemployed, down 22,000 on the previous year.


The inactivity rate for people aged between 16 and 64 was at a record low of 20.2%.


Molly Johnson-Jones, co-founder of Flexa, said, “There is a sense of ‘what might have been’ with these labour statistics, which boast of a record high 76.6% employment rate that is simply unimaginable now. 


“We are living in a changed world, and this data is a historic relic that bears no comparison with our new reality. While we enter this crisis in a strong position, there is no indication yet of how bad things will get. 


“Upcoming labour market releases will introduce a new term, ‘furloughed’. Millions of people will be in this limbo - employed and salaried, but unsure of when they might return to work and whether there will be a job to return to. 


“Applications to fund the wages for one million workers were received by the Government yesterday. Until the labour statistics reflect this new form of employment, the picture this labour market data paints will be only a distant memory of times before corona.”


Tom Hadley, director of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, commented, “Everything has changed since these statistics were collected. The inevitable impact of Covid-19 on the UK Labour market can be seen in the REC’s Report on Jobs which shows the quickest drop in permanent and temporary staff placements since the global financial crash. The decline is particularly steep in sectors like retail, hospitality and construction. Demand in sectors like logistics and healthcare on the other hand have peaked and the recruitment industry is working with government and other bodies to place staff into key worker roles quickly and help the country through the coronavirus crisis.


“What today’s ONS figures do show is that the fundamentals of our jobs market are sound. This will help us to bounce back post-crisis. How quickly this happens depends on the steps government takes now to protect businesses. The package of support on offer is considerable but it needs to be accessible to businesses quickly to manage the cashflow crisis and protect jobs.”


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