New statistics from the ONS shows a marked improvement in the labour market, with the rate of employment increasing and the number of unemployed people falling substantially during this quarter. 

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows the largest quarterly decrease in unemployment since September-November 2015.

Alongside this, the UK employment rate was estimated at 75.2 per cent which was down on pre-pandemic figures but 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter.

This recovery has also been reflected in the number of vacancies, reaching 657,000 between February-April 2021. This was growth of 8 per cent (equivalent to 48,400 job vacancies) compared to the last quarter.

Additionally, the number of payroll employees has increased for the fifth consecutive month but remains 772,000 below pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic levels.

Despite these figures suggesting recovery, the economic inactivity rate – referring to people not in employment who have not been seeking work within the last 4 weeks – has seen a rise of 0.1 per cent in comparison to the previous quarter.

This was particularly true for young people, aged between 16-24, whose employment has already been considerably impacted by the pandemic. The ONS statistics reveal that economic inactivity is at an all-time high for this group, suggesting more young people are staying in education and not looking for work.

Chief Executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) Neil Carberry, responded to this data, suggesting more could be done to aid training and reskilling:

Today’s figures show the labour market remained very resilient during the latest lockdown, and even show the beginnings of the recovery in hiring that business surveys are suggesting.

With the announcement of lockdown easing in February and restrictions starting to lift in March, business confidence has grown, and we can see that in the growing number of job vacancies – especially in sectors like hospitality.

The challenge for us all in the coming months will be helping people into the new jobs that are being created. It was good to see some measures to improve the skills system in the Queen’s Speech, but more can and should be done. It’s clear that the Apprenticeship Levy is not working effectively – broadening it into a more flexible skills levy that all workers can use to access training would be a real boost, and speak to the government’s levelling up agenda.

Tania Bowers, Legal Counsel and Head of Public Policy at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) comments:

While this optimism is certainly welcome news for the UK’s recovery, in order to continue on this positive trajectory, working practices and employment law need to be fit for the modern world.

How businesses are run and how recruitment is managed is different in a remote working environment and it’s critical that the relevant authorities are providing the necessary support that organisations currently need.

The recent delay to a return to in-person Right to Work checks is one move that APSCo has welcomed – though we are urging the Home Office to prioritise the adoption of technology to switch to digital checks. However, more still needs to be done.

We were disappointed not to see the Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech, for example, meaning an unwelcome delay to the regulation of umbrella companies by BEIS. It’s regrettable that the labour market and particularly a review of employment status is not being prioritised in the Covid recovery.


The various data can be found from new ONS reports published here and here.