From education to employment

Low unemployment masks largest fall in labour force participation among over-50s since records began

People around desk, shaking hands

Estimates of employment, unemployment, inactivity, average weekly earnings, vacancies and other labour market related statistics for the UK. This release also includes latest estimates of workforce jobs and public sector employment.

Sector Response

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak said:

“Thanks to the unprecedented economic support we’ve provided, we’ve now seen a year of falling unemployment and a stronger jobs market bounce back than so many predicted.

“I am confident that our labour market is in a good position to deal with the current global challenges, with payrolled employee numbers above pre-pandemic levels in every nation and region and redundancies at record lows.

“We know people are concerned about the rising cost of living so alongside continuing to help people find great jobs – we’re providing direct support worth more than £20 billion this financial year and next.”

Minister for Employment, Mims Davies MP said:

“These ONS figures show unemployment remains low, below pre-pandemic levels for the first time, and employment is continuing to grow, providing a stable foundation as new global challenges emerge. With record numbers of vacancies out there, our focus is on helping people build their skills and improve their prospects by moving into work.

“We are connecting thousands of job-ready claimants to live opportunities, giving them a platform to progress and pursue a career. To achieve this, we are working with a wide range of sectors to create and maintain a workforce that is skilled, productive, reliable and resilient.”

Commenting on the figures, IES Director Tony Wilson said:

“People shouldn’t be fooled by the fall in headline unemployment in today’s figures.  Unemployment is falling because people are leaving the labour force at a worryingly high rate, with one hundred thousand fewer in the labour market than just three months ago.  Older people are leading this exodus, with half a million fewer people aged over 50 in the labour market than two years ago.  This is the largest fall since comparable records began thirty years ago, and is being particularly driven by fewer older women in work.  This is happening in spite of continued record vacancies, and the tightest jobs market for employers in at least fifty years.

“With inflation rising, real pay falling and fewer people in work, we need urgent action at the Budget this month to boost employment and earnings, particularly for older people out of work.  Employers need to step up too, and make sure that jobs are advertised and designed in ways that are accessible and inclusive for older people.  Separate analysis published this week shows that more the vast majority of those older people who have left work are not on state benefits and are relying on their own savings or family to get by.  So we also need to ensure that employment support is open to all older people out of work, not just those on Universal Credit or other benefits.”

Matthew Percival, CBI Director for People and Skills policy, said:

“Highs and lows continue in the UK labour market with rising employment and a record number of jobs available. Yet pay is not keeping pace with inflation and long-term sickness absence continues to drive rising inactivity.

“Supporting employee health so that people are able to return to work requires sustained effort from employers and government”.

Responding to the latest ONS figures, Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

“The cost of living crisis has set in, with regular pay falling 1% in real terms in the year to January. This is even before the latest rises in energy prices and further inflation, which suggest we’re in for a prolonged squeeze in living standards and many people facing one of the toughest years in decades. The Chancellor must do more in his Spring Statement, including a rise in Universal Credit to help those on the lowest incomes who risk being hit the hardest.

Today’s statistics also show a continuing rise in economic inactivity, including a worrying 2.3 million people who are out of the labour market due to long-term sickness or disability. This leaves fewer potential workers for employers to recruit. The Government needs to refocus its efforts to better address these growing challenges and draw up a new Plan for Jobs, Growth and Living Standards.”

Walid Koudmani, chief market analyst at financial brokerage XTB comments:

“The latest Labour Force Survey data for November 2021 to January 2022 showed a continuing recovery in the labour market, with a quarterly increase in the employment rate and a decrease in the unemployment rate. However, economic inactivity has increased slightly in the quarter and with the ongoing rise in inflation and increasing uncertainty relating to the geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe which could significantly disrupt several supply chains, the labour market balance remains quite uncertain and could be highly susceptible to fluctuations.”

Geoff Smith, CEO of emerging talent management consultancy, Grayce:

“The ONS’ labour market statistics have shown consistent signs of recovery from the effects of the pandemic for the past few months. However, the job vacancy conundrum continues to worsen, with the low unemployment rates hiding the record number of high-skilled vacancies that businesses are struggling to fill. This is hindering agility and growth in the fiercely competitive market. On top of this, we see gifted graduates accepting jobs they are overqualified for, so employers must find ways to tap into top talent and bridge the critical skills gap.

“With the pandemic came rapid digital transformation, a pivotal point for businesses as they welcomed new ways of working to remain resilient during the turbulent period. The businesses that now continue to thrive are those that are willing to nurture enthusiastic, digitally-native young professionals, who have a propensity to continuously learn and an appetite for change. I am constantly blown away by the enthusiasm of our Analysts and their drive to innovate and challenge the status quo on their client projects. Business leaders should embrace this and champion diversity of thought to encourage agility and drive further digital transformation.

“With technical skills currently holding a half-life of 2.5 years, encouraging young people to be curious, continuously learn and develop their skill set is vital if we’re to see long-term economic recovery from the pandemic. Organisations will need to look at their Learning & Development programmes and find ways of supporting emerging talent to adapt their skill set if they’re to stay ahead of the competition and maintain the rapid pace of digital change we’ve seen over the past two years.”


UK Labour Market: March 2022

Regional, local authority and Parliamentary constituency breakdowns of changes in UK employment, unemployment, economic inactivity and other related statistics:

Labour market in the regions of the UK: March 2022

Related Articles