March 2020

The latest labour market figures published on 17 March are positive with a large rise in employment in the quarter, despite the unexpected rise in unemployment.

  • Unemployment is 1,343,000, which has increased by 54,000 from last month’s published figure (quarterly headline up by 63,000) and the unemployment rate was 3.9%, up by 0.1 percentage points on last month and also rose by 0.1 percentage points on last quarter.
  • The ONS figure for claimant unemployed is 1,246,100, rose by 17,300 on last month, and the claimant rate is 3.5%.
  • The number of workless young people (not in employment, full-time education or training) is 976,000, is up by 2,000 on the quarter, representing 14.2% of the youth population (up by 0.1 percentage points).
  • Youth unemployment (including students) is 506,000, and is up by 34,000 on the quarter.
  • There are 1.7 unemployed people per vacancy.
  • The employment rate is 76.5% (it showed no change on last month’s published figure and increased by 0.3 percentage points in the preferred quarterly measure).
View analysis for March 2020
Duncan Melville, chief economist at Learning and Work Institute
Much of the commentary on today's numbers is focusing on the surprise rise in unemployment in the quarter - up by 63,000. However, today's numbers are positive overall with another very substantial rise in employment of 184,000 in the quarter, and economic inactivity among people of working age also down markedly by 175,000.
Hence, rising employment appears to be encouraging people to enter the labour market and search for work, which could explain the rise in unemployment. While overall unemployment is up, the proportion of people who have been long term unemployed for over 12 months has generally been falling since the first three months of 2019. Another positive sign is that the level of vacancies increased for the third month on the trot following nearly a year of decline. However, not all of today's numbers are positive. New quarterly workforce jobs numbers were also released today, and these showed a continuing decline in employment growth down from 251,000 in the three months to March 2019 to just 68,000 in the three months to December 2019. Also, wage growth is continuing to moderate with increases down to 3.1 per cent and 1.5 per cent in real terms after taking account of inflation. While today's numbers are positive, the outlook is very uncertain given the coronavirus. The precise magnitude of the impact of the coronavirus on the economy and the labour market is currently unknowable, but it will undoubtedly be negative and probably very substantially negative. The hope is that the impact will only be short term. In these circumstances bold actions by government to support people without incomes, because they cannot work, will be needed, so payments from Universal Credit must be speeded up as a matter of urgency. People affected must also be reminded of the availability of contributory Employment and Support Allowance, including for self-employed people, and the conditions for access to this must be eased further than has already happened. The negative economic shock of the coronavirus may well lead to a sudden drop in employment levels and a sudden rise in unemployment. To prevent this unemployment turning into long term detachment from the labour market, the government will need to stand ready to unveil a package of active policies to assist unemployed people.
Paul Bivand, associate director for statistics and analysis at Learning and Work Institute
We are planning to remove some of the chart lines showing long-term JSA claimants, as these are increasingly affected by the lack of comparable Universal Credit figures. We hope to cover some of the same issues quarterly in greater depth, as the DWP statistics are now almost all quarterly.

Chart 1: UK unemployment (ILO)

The latest unemployment figure is 1,343,000. It is up by 54,000 from the figure published last month. The unemployment rate rose by 0.1 percentage points to 3.9%.


Chart 12: Employment rate in the UK

The employment rate rose by 0.3 percentage points over the quarter, to 76.5%.


Chart 9: Vacancies – whole economy survey

Vacancies (in the Office for National Statistics survey of the whole economy) rose this month, to 817,000. As the number of vacancies is quite volatile, and frequently revised, the Office for National Statistics uses a three-month average.


Chart 5: Unemployment rates by age

The 18 to 24 year old unemployment rate (including students) is 10.5% of the economically active – excluding one million economically inactive students from the calculation. The rate for those aged 25 to 49 is 2.8%. For those aged 50 and over it is 2.8%. The quarterly change is up 0.3 for 18 to 24 year olds, up 0.1 for 25 to 49 year olds, and up 0.1 for the over-50s.