January 2024

For the fourth month running, uncertainties created by falling response rates to the Labour Force Survey mean the Office for National Statistics has released a more limited set of data, adjusted in line with trends in administrative data sources, such as HMRC PAYE data and the claimant count of unemployed people. However, these administrative data have their own challenges. Significant caution should therefore be exercised in the use of these statistics until a new Labour Force Survey and revised population projections are available later in 2024.

Stephen Evans, chief executive at Learning and Work Institute, said:
Wage growth looks to be easing somewhat, though it remains above levels consistent with the Bank of England’s inflation target. Falling inflation means real wages are now rising, but remain around £12,000 below pre-financial crisis trends. That’s the price of low growth over the last 15 years. It looks like lower inflation will be achieved without significant falls in employment. Extending employment support to all of the 3 million people out of work who would like a job can help to boost economic growth
Helen Gray, chief economist at Learning and Work Institute, said:
The publication of a wider set of labour market measures has again been pushed back while the ONS ensure they meet their quality standards. According to the experimental measures of unemployment, employment and economic inactivity that ONS are using at present, there has been a high degree of stability in the labour market in recent months. Vacancies remain 100,000 above pre-pandemic levels, but have been in continuous decline since Spring 2022.

1. Headline indicators

Employment in November 2023 was up by 33,100 on the previous month and up by 72,700 on the June to August 2023 quarter, to 33.05 million. The employment rate for those aged 16-64 went up slightly to 75.8%, from 75.7% in the last quarter.

Economic inactivity for those aged 16-64 fell by 44,600 on the previous quarter to 8.68 million. The economic inactivity rate fell by 0.1 percentage point to 20.8%.

Unemployment for those aged 16-64 rose by 15,700 compared with the previous quarter to 1.43 million. There was no change in the unemployment rate at 4.3%.



2. Real wages rose slightly as inflation continues to slow, but remain well below pre-financial crisis trends

The latest data show average regular earnings grew by 6.6% in the year to November 2023. For public sector workers average regular earnings grew by 6.6%, while average regular earnings grew by 6.5% for private sector workers. The slowing rate of inflation means real regular earnings went up by 1.4% (3-month average change) in the year to November 2023, with the single month data for November showing a real-terms increase of 1.7% over the year.

The rate of inflation has been falling since May 2023 and CPIH decreased from 4.7% in October to 4.2% in November. In the year to November 2023 core CPIH (excluding energy, food, alcohol and tobacco) rose by 5.2%, down from 5.6% in October. Inflation in areas like Food and non-alcoholic beverages, Health, Communications and Restaurants and hotels is still very high and inflation in the UK remains above that in other countries in the G7. The United States is currently experiencing an inflation rate of 3.1% while the Eurozone average is 2.4%. Weak growth since the global financial crisis means average earnings are around £12,000 per year lower than if pre-crisis trends had continued.



3. There are fewer potential workers for employers to recruit, with 588,000 fewer over 50s in the labour market since the pandemic started

Recruitment has been more challenging for employers since the pandemic because of rises in economic inactivity – people leaving the labour market. The number of people aged 50 to 64 who are economically inactive has increased by 8.0% since the pandemic started.

Economic inactivity has fallen very slightly in the most recent quarter, with the rate standing at 20.8% for those aged 16-64 in September to November 2023 compared with 20.9% in June to August 2023. But the challenge remains: the number of those aged 16 to 64 who are economic inactive is 307,000 higher than pre-pandemic, yet only one in ten out-of-work older people and disabled people get employment support each year. The Government needs to extend employment support to more people outside the labour market and employers need to think about recruitment and job design to attract and retain staff.



4. Vacancies continue to fall, but remain high by historic standards

Headline vacancies this month stand at 934,000, down by 49,000 compared with the previous quarter. The ONS’ experimental single-month vacancy figure has fallen by 55,000 over the past month. The headline ONS vacancy figure is both seasonally adjusted and a three-month average. Although vacancies have been declining for the longest continuous period on record, they remain 108,000 higher than pre-pandemic levels.



5. Numbers claiming unemployment-related benefits continue to exceed the ILO measure of unemployment

Recent adjustments to the Labour Force Survey to align with other sources have closed the sizeable gap between the numbers claiming unemployment-related benefits and those unemployed on the official measure. For those aged 16 or more, unemployment is 1,460,000, up by 7,000 from last month’s published level, and the quarterly headline figure has risen by 16,000. The ONS figure for claimant unemployed was 1,571,000 in December, up by 12,000 on the previous month and 21,000 on the quarter. In November 2023 the number of unemployed people who were claiming unemployment-related benefits was 100,000 higher than the number unemployed on the official measure.



6. Unemployment rate much higher for young people than for those aged 25+

Of those who are economically active, the unemployment rate is 12.8% among 16- to 24-year-olds. The rate for those aged 25 to 34 is 3.9%, whilst it is 2.7% for those aged 35 to 49. For those aged 50 to 64 the unemployment rate is 2.9% and for those over 65 years of age it is 1.9%. In the most recent quarter (September to November 2023), the unemployment rate rose by 0.3 percentage points for 16- to 24-year-olds compared with June to August 2023, but remained unchanged for all other age groups.


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