Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Eclipsed by the Chancellor’s final Budget of this Parliament, the Office for National Statistics functionally released their monthly statistics report on the British labour market. These reports cover employment, unemployment, economic inactivity, claimant counts and pay levels.
For the three months end in January 2015, 30,939,000 people were employed in the UK. This figure was an increase of 143,000 over the previous quarter, and a rise of 617,000 people above last year. Whilst it has been repeated by ministers that the employment level — the total number of people in employment, aged 16 and over — has never been higher, this is unsurprising since the population is larger.
The surprise, and may be highlighted in the upcoming election, is the employment rate: 73.3%. Defined as the percentage of all people between the ages of 16 to 64 that are in employment, the employment rate has reached an unseen pinnacle. This is the zenith since comparable data began in 1971.
The male employment rate, now standing at 78.1%, stays below its past peak of 79.1%, achieved on the precipice of the 2008-09 financial crisis. In the latest reports, the employment rate for women has hit a joint summit of 68.5% during the comparable period. Women are belaying their retirements, as the equalisation of state pension ages between men and women continues.
The headline employment rate projects upwards, but political questions about types of employment will also arise. The contemporary rate of self-employment is without historical precedent. However, these rates are being predominantly driven by fewer people dropping out of self-employment, suggesting persistent careers — including in taxi services and management consultancy — are being cultivated. Similarly, the prevalence of zero-hours contracts has attracted political consternation, as I’ve discussed in previous articles.
An economic recovery may be observed in the data, but not felt in the pockets.