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DWF employment law experts comment on the latest labour market data across the UK

15 February 2024
Joanne Frew, Global Deputy Head of Employment & Pensions, Ann Frances Cooney, employment law Partner and Elizabeth Colvin, employment law solicitor at DWF review labour market data and provide their commentary on the updated figures.

UK wide data

The latest labour market figures for the period October to December 2023 continue to demonstrate a stable labour market, although growth in employment has slowed over the last 12 months and the proportion of people economically inactive has increased.  The highlights for the period show a UK employment rate of 75%, an increase since the last quarter.    The UK unemployment rate was 3.8%, a decrease since the last quarter. 

According to the latest data the UK economic inactivity rate for the quarter was 21.9%, above estimates from a year ago.  The annual increase was driven by those inactive because they were on long-term sick leave, the numbers on long-term sick leave remain at historically high levels.  With high numbers of employees on sick leave, employers should take the opportunity to ensure sickness policies and procedures are up-to-date and fit for purpose.  Mental health sickness absence has spiralled post-pandemic.  According to Mind mental health is the leading cause of sickness absence.  Focusing on engagement and support for the workforce with regard to mental health will undoubtedly help to reduce absence levels. 

We are seeing a raft of new employment legislation coming through and with a general election on the horizon we can expect more.  With a number of new or extended employment rights for employees we may see a more active labour market over the coming months with employees willing to take the plunge safe in the knowledge they have a higher degree of protection. 

Scotland data

During the period October to December 2023 Scotland's labour market remained resilient despite the ongoing economic uncertainty.  Over the quarter the unemployment rate increased slightly, the employment rate increased and the inactivity rate decreased.  The highlights for the period show Scotland's unemployment rate was 4.5%, an increase of 0.1% over the quarter.  By way of comparison Scotland's unemployment rate was above the UK rate of 3.8%.  The employment rate in Scotland was 74.4%, an increase of 0.6% over the quarter.  Scotland's employment rate was below the UK rate of 75%.  The economic inactivity rate in Scotland was 22%, above the UK rate of 21.9%. 

Early seasonally adjusted estimates for January 2024 from HMRC Pay As You Earn Real Time Information indicate that median monthly pay for payrolled employees in Scotland was £2,359 an increase of 6.1% compared with January 2023.  Despite the increase in pay the economic climate continues to challenge Scottish employers and employees alike with spiralling costs.  With employers struggling to meet the demands for increased pay, we are likely to see more industrial unrest over the course of 2024.  As ever, employee engagement with a focus on attracting and retaining core talent is vital.  

Northern Ireland data

The latest labour market figures show that the number of employees on company payrolls in Northern Ireland increased by 0.1% over the month and by 1.9% over the year.  The latest NI seasonably adjusted unemployment rate for the period October to December 2023 was estimated from the Labour Force Survey at 2.6%.  This was an increase of 0.4% over the quarter and 0.1% over the year.  The employment rate increased by 0.6% over the quarter and by 0.4% over the year to 71.3%.  

NISRA, acting on behalf of the Department for the Economy, received confirmation that 50 redundancies occurred in January 2024 which brought the rolling 12-month total of confirmed redundancies to 2,380. This was almost two and a half times the figure for the previous year.  It is unsurprising with such economic uncertainty that we are still seeing a number of employers having to make the difficult decision of making redundancies.

With the political landscape changing in NI we may well see a raft of new employment laws over the coming months.  With improved employment protection we may see some movement in the labour market with employees feeling more confident to change employers. 

Further Reading