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UK labour market "defies gravity"

19 March 2019

UK employment has reached an all-time high, wages are up and unemployment is at its lowest level since the 1970s.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that UK employment now stands at a record-breaking 76.1% and unemployment is at 3.9%. The ONS data also reveals that wages have continued to outstrip inflation for 12 months in a row.

Alok Sharma, minister of state for employment, said: "2019 has continued to be a record breaker, with the employment rate topping 76% for the first time, record female employment and unemployment falling below 4% for the first time in 44 years … Our jobs market remains resilient as we see more people than ever before benefitting from earning a wage."

However, business groups are warning that there may be trouble ahead. "The UK labour market continues to defy gravity," said Matthew Percival, CBI head of employment.

"While it's encouraging to see real pay growth continuing to increase, subdued economic growth and productivity casts a shadow over this strong labour market performance. Now the government must accelerate the industrial strategy, ensuring that the UK economy can generate jobs and pay growth in the future."

Tej Parikh, senior economist at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "The labour market continues to have the wind in its sails, but there may be choppy waters ahead.

"Businesses have been steadfast in bringing on board new staff and in creating vacancies, despite question marks over the future path of the economy. Meanwhile, as unemployment has fallen, competition for a shrinking pool of workers has pushed up salaries and buoyed households.

"But with uncertainty around Brexit reaching a crescendo, firms are becoming more and more cagey over their hiring decisions. Business leaders are also facing a cumulative burden of cost pressures which will limit just how high they can raise wages to attract the workers they need, while the pinch of talent shortages will begin to bite harder.

"To build on the current strength in UK employment, employers will want to avoid a disorderly withdrawal from the EU and will, above all, be urging policymakers to return some much-needed oxygen to the skills and productivity agenda."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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