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DWF employment law experts examine latest labour market data

17 April 2024

UK wide data

The latest labour market figures from the ONS for the period December 2023 to February 2024 show the UK employment level is down on both the year and the quarter. Facing increased pressure the UK employment rate was estimated at 74.5% for the period December 2023 to February 2024, below estimates of a year ago and decreased in the latest quarter. Further highlighting the challenging market, the UK unemployment rate was estimated at 4.2%, above estimates of a year ago and up in the latest quarter.  The UK economic inactivity rate was 22.2%, above estimates of a year ago, and up in the latest quarter.

In January to March 2024, the estimated number of vacancies in the UK fell by 13,000 on the quarter to 916,000 – a decline for the 21st consecutive period. 

Annual growth in real terms for regular pay was 1.9% in December 2023 to February 2024, and for total pay was 1.6%. Despite the falling numbers of vacancies, we are still seeing demands for higher pay across the board and employees are prepared to follow the money for higher salaries from competitors.  A positive workplace culture, inspiring a sense of loyalty and true engagement has never been more important. 

The labour market has faced considerable pressure and it is perhaps unsurprising that the latest figures are starting to show the strain. 

With a general election on the horizon we can expect further changes in the job market over the course of the year. 

Scotland data

The Scottish labour market figures for the period December 2023 to February 2024 indicate that over the quarter the unemployment rate decreased, while the employment rate increased and the inactivity rate decreased. 

The unemployment rate in Scotland was 4%, down 0.4% over the quarter.  By way of comparison the Scottish unemployment rate was below the UK rate of 4.2%.  The employment rate in Scotland was 74.2%, up 0.5% over the quarter, however, Scotland's employment rate was below the UK rate of 74.5%.  The headline figures for Scotland show continued resilience against a backdrop of a difficult economic climate. 

The economic inactivity rate in Scotland was 22.6%, down 0.2% over the quarter.  Scotland's economic inactivity rate was above the UK rate of 22.2%.

Early seasonally adjusted estimates for March 2024 from HMRC Pay As You Earn Real Time Information indicate that median monthly pay for payrolled employees in Scotland was £2,389, an increase of 6.3% compared with March 2023.  Employers are doing their best to meet the demands for higher pay, only too aware that employees are prepared to move jobs for higher salaries. 

We can expect further change in the labour market over the course of the year with a general election around the corner.  For example, Labour has set out plans to introduce unfair dismissal as a day one right.  Should Labour win the election and introduce this right, employees may be more willing to move employment knowing that they have a basic level of protection against dismissal. 

NI data

The latest labour market figures suggest that Northern Ireland's job market remains resilient despite facing considerable pressure over the last few months. The number of employees receiving pay through HMRC PAYE in March 2024 decreased by 0.2% over the month but increased by 1.3% over the year. Earnings from HMRC PAYE indicated that payroll earnings also increased by 0.2% over the month and increased by 2.3% over the year. The unemployment rate for the period December to February 2024 was estimated from the Labour Force Survey at 2.2%. This was a decrease of 0.4 percentage points (pps) over the quarter and a decrease of 0.2 pps over the year. The number of people claiming unemployment related benefits slightly increased in March to 3.8% of the workforce. The Claimant Count rate has now been within the range of 3.6% to 3.8% for two years

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