UK job market steadies after year of upheaval

2021-03-24 12:09:15

  A restaurant worker sits in the window of an empty restuarant in London, Britain, March 17, 2020. [Photo/Agencies] The United Kingdom's job market had improved a little by the start of 2021 after the upheaval of pandemic-hit 2020, according to the nation's independent producer of statistics. The Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday the employment news, coupled with the speedy rollout of a vaccine, and the continuation of the nation's furlough program-which ensures people are paid if they cannot work because of virus restrictions-have contributed to hopes of an economic recovery. Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, told the Financial Times newspaper there are "clear signs now that the labor market has started to turn the corner". But he said the improvement was largely down to a fall in redundancies, not the creation of new jobs. "This is proving to be a disaster for young people, who account for nearly two-thirds of the fall in employment and none of the recent growth," he added. The Office for National Statistics, which is also known as the ONS, said the unemployment rate stood at 5 percent during the three months ending Feb 1, which was better than the 5.1 percent of the previous period and much improved on the 5.2 percent that had been expected. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the government department responsible for collecting taxes, said the improvement continued into February, with companies' payrolls growing for a third consecutive month. But, despite there being almost 200,000 more jobs than there were in November, the number was still down by almost 700,000 on the pre-pandemic total number of jobs. Sam Beckett, head of economic statistics at the ONS, said on Radio 4's Today program there is still much uncertainty in the jobs market. "Furlough is still doing a lot of heavy lifting in the labor market," he said. "There are around 5 million people still on furlough, it's down from its peak of 9 million but has been rising recently." He said young people have been hit hardest by pandemic-caused job losses, and the hospitality sector has been the most heavily impacted industry, with 368,000 jobs lost. "London has been particularly hard hit," Beckett added. The BBC noted that the latest quarter saw an improvement in the number of people being made redundant, with 11 people in every 1,000 being let go during January, compared with 14 per 1,000 during November and December. The ONS said the number of vacancies was 26.8 percent lower during the three-month period than a year earlier. And the organization said the jobs crisis remained acute, with 1.7 million people out of work, which is the worst it has been for five years. The government's fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, said it now expects the UK's unemployment rate to peak at 6.5 percent this year, instead of the previously predicted 11.9 percent.