Mixed reaction to latest ONS employment figures

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Employment figures
Latest ONS figures show 1.82 million unemployed people, 10,000 more than for February to April 2015 but 198,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

This week’s release of the latest labour market statistics by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which show both a rise in the unemployment rate and a rise in the number of people employed, have produced a mixed response from experts across the UK.

The key headlines from the ONS report were as follows:

  • There were 31.09 million people in work, 42,000 more than for February to April 2015 and 413,000 more than for a year earlier.
  • There were 22.74 million people working full-time, 361,000 more than for a year earlier. There were 8.36 million people working part-time, 52,000 more than for a year earlier.
  • The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 73.5 percent, little changed compared with February to April 2015 but higher than for a year earlier (72.8%).
  • There were 1.82 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 10,000 more than for February to April 2015 but 198,000 fewer than for a year earlier.
  • The unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, unchanged compared with February to April 2015 but lower than for a year earlier (6.2%). The unemployment rate is the proportion of the labour force (those in work plus those unemployed) who were unemployed.
  • Comparing May to July 2015 with a year earlier, both total pay (including bonuses) and regular pay (excluding bonuses) for employees in Great Britain increased by 2.9 percent.

Chris Jones, chief executive of the City & Guilds Group believes that these figures show a stable employment market, but feels there is still much work to be done to ensure young people are given increased opportunities and, through education, are better equipped to take advantage of them.

‘We can’t lose sight of the fact that 15.6 percent of young people are still unemployed, even though overall unemployment is starting to steady. It’s crucial that the Government tackles the root of this joblessness. Too many of them are struggling to find work because they didn’t get adequate careers advice in school. That’s why we need to use labour market information and the latest data on skills gaps to shape the careers advice on offer.

Response from trade unions was unsurprising robust. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady believes the figures are skewed by the increase in the number of people who are now self-employed compared to a year ago and are only working part-time to supplement income.

“While it’s too soon to say that the labour market is weakening significantly, poor employment and unemployment results for the third month running are worrying. The rise in employment on the quarter is accounted for entirely by a rise in self-employed people working part-time.

“It is welcome that private sector earnings continue to rise, but there is still a long way to go to make up lost ground and the public sector is even further behind.

“We need a stronger and fairer recovery that works for everyone – with more investment in skills, infrastructure and innovation to help better job creation and sustainable pay growth.”

 

However, the lack of a dramatic change in either the number of those employed or the unemployment has left many welcoming the sense of stability after what has been a volatile post-recession market.

Mark Beatson, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD), said: “The main point to draw from this set of figures is how little the overall levels of employment and unemployment have changed in the last six months. After a long period of sustained employment growth and falling unemployment, we seem to have entered a more stable phase. The numbers of self-employed and those in temporary jobs appear to have peaked.

“As the economy was still growing strongly in the second quarter of 2015, stable employment levels suggest that productivity has been growing. If this is the case, it helps to make average earnings growth sustainable. The latest figures have been boosted by earnings in construction and by bonuses, especially in financial services, both consistent with a growing economy. With interest rates expected to remain very low, employers should continue to invest in technology, systems and workforce skills if they wish to avoid the prospect of increased skill shortages.”

Katja Hall, CBI deputy director-general, agreed that there were many positive signs contained within the new figures, including the slight rise in youth employment, but feels that the new national living wage will have an impact when it is introduced next year.

“It’s good to see employment on the up after the last few months, especially amongst our young people,” said Hall. “At the same time however, unemployment has edged up as the number of people actively seeking work rose, but jobs growth failed to keep up.

“Pay growth is ticking up, which combined with low inflation, means workers have more of their hard-earned money in their pockets. If we are to achieve sustainable higher wage growth, boosting productivity remains crucial.

“However, with the National Living Wage increasing pay for entry level workers by 7.5 percent, this is running well ahead of private sector regular pay growth, at 3.4 percent. To safeguard jobs, it’s crucial the Low Pay Commission can make an independent judgement on the future path of this new pay floor.”

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