Unemployment falls to 3.9%, with large rises in female employment reported

Unemployment is down, with a rise in female employment partly responsible, says the ONS.

Employment rose in the three months to January with unemployment falling to 3.9%, driven mainly by a rise in older people, women and full-time employees.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics shows employment rose by 222,000 on the previous quarter to reach a record high of 76.1 per cent.

The Resolution Foundation think tank says the latest data shows that while business investment and growth stagnated at the end of 2018, firms are choosing instead to hire new staff. Some experts have warned that the figures don’t cover the last couple of months when the job market appears to have slowed down amid Brexit uncertainty.

The Foundation says the increase in employment is driven largely by three groups:  older people, women and full-time employees. The number of men in employment increased by 77,000 to reach a record high of 17.32 million in the three-month period. The number of women in employment increased by 144,000 to reach a record high of 15.40 million over the same period.

The ONS says the increase in the employment rate for women over the last few years has been due partly to changes to the State Pension age for women, resulting in fewer women retiring between the ages of 60 and 65 years. Its research shows twice as many women over the age of 65 are employed in the workplace today compared with a decade ago as women struggle to make ends meet. This is partly due to the impact of caring responsibilities earlier in their lives on their pensions.

IPSE says the number of women in self-employment also rose in the last quarter of 2018 – up 31,000. IPSE research shows that one in eight of all self-employed people are now mothers.

Pay was also an issue in the ONS statistics. Excluding bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.4%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.

The Resolution Foundation says that levels of weekly pay still remain £9 lower than they were a decade ago and there have been warnings that pay increases are not being spread evenly. The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently noted that big pay rises for top earners were in danger of deepening inequality.

Stephen Clarke, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “While business investment has stagnated, firms are choosing instead to invest heavily in new staff. As a result, the proportion of people in work is at its highest rate since the war, and Britain is closing in on Nordic employment rates.

“This encouraging jobs growth is benefitting women and those traditionally left out of the labour market. It is even starting to have a knock-on effect on still historically weak pay rises. This is crucial for driving a long overdue pay recovery for workers, but may be held back if firms’ reluctance to invest continues.”

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