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UK employment sees biggest quarterly decline in four years as general election looms

3 min read

UK employment has suffered its biggest quarterly fall in four years ahead of the general election, according to new figures.

The number of people in work dropped by 58,000 between July and September, to 32.75 million people, the biggest decline since May 2015 where employment fell by 65,000.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the decrease was driven by a record fall in the number of women in work, by 93,000, and part-time workers, by 164,000. 

Job vacancies meanwhile plummeted by 53,000 to the end of October compared to the same period in 2018, the sharpest fall since 2009.

But the third quarter data also showed an 106,000 increase in full-time employees, and by the end of September a 323,000 boost in the number of people in work compared to a year earlier.

The unemployment rate also continued to decrease.

An ONS spokesperson said: “The employment rate is higher than a year ago, though broadly unchanged in recent months.

"Vacancies have seen their biggest annual fall since late 2009, but remain high by historical standards.

"The number of EU nationals in work was very little changed on the year, with almost all the growth in overseas workers coming from non-EU nationals."

Average earnings excluding bonuses also increased by 3.6%, compared with 3.8% growth logged in the previous month.

Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: "These figures are real cause for concern. Employment is down, wage growth has slowed and there has been a sharp fall in vacancies which clearly points to an economy that has stalled.

"The Tories’ vision of Brexit with Britain as a deregulated, bargain basement economy ignores the desperate need for investment when millions are trapped in low paid, insecure work and 70% of children from working families are growing up in poverty.

"Labour offers real change with an immediate real living wage of £10 an hour for people aged 16 and over, a ban on zero hour contracts and investment in every region and nation of the UK to create decent jobs that lift people out of poverty."

Trade Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Working families are thousands of pounds out of pocket after a decade of dismal pay growth. That is not right.

“The Conservatives have presided over the longest wage squeeze since Napoleonic times. They have nothing to boast about.”

Nye Cominetti, economic analyst at think tank Resolution Foundation also said there were "worrying symptoms" from the published stats.

"Until now the jobs market has seemed immune to wider economic conditions, and the uncertainty that is dragging on UK growth. But falling employment, fewer vacancies and slowing pay growth suggest this may no longer be the case," he said.

“The recent drop in female employment and slight uptick in youth unemployment are worrying symptoms, as these groups are often first to feel the effects of falling employment.

“Today’s signals should give all political parties on the campaign trail pause for thought. This year may have seen record levels of employment, but the next government needs to be prepared for the consequences of a rockier road ahead.”

But Chancellor Sajid Javid welcomed the findings, he tweeted: “Employment UP, unemployment DOWN, wages RISING. Only Conservatives can be trusted to build on the decade of recovery. 

“Don't let Corbyn and McDonnell bury it under a mountain of new debt."

Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey added: “Thanks to a strong economy and the hard work of the British people, we head towards the end of 2019 with the unemployment rate lower than at any point in nearly half a century.

"Through sensible management of our economy this Conservative Government has helped create 3.7 million jobs."

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