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UK – Number of temporary employees up 1.7%, employment rate still below pre-pandemic levels

UK – Number of temporary employees up 1.7%, employment rate still below pre-pandemic levels

May 18, 2021

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The number of temporary employees in the UK increased by 1.7% on a seasonally adjusted basis to a total of approximately 1.53 million for the three-month period from January 2021 through March 2021 when compared to the same period a year ago, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In January 2021, the UK entered a nationwide lockdown which continued throughout March 2021.

When compared to the previous three-month period ended February 2021, the number of temporary employees fell by 0.5%.

Temporary workers are self-identified when surveyed by the ONS, and they include those who are on fixed-period contracts, temporary agency workers, casual workers, seasonal workers and others in temporary work.

The number of temporary employees as a percentage of total employment was 5.5%, up from 5.4% when compared to a year ago.

Of the 1.53 million temporary employees during the period ended March 2021, approximately 496,819 were temporary because they could not find a permanent job; 340,678 did not want a permanent job; 110,012 had a contract with a period of training; and 585,613 cited other reasons.

Of the 1.54 million temporary employees during the period, approximately 716,160 were men while 816,961were women.

The ONS also published further labour market figures for January 2021 to March 2021 which showed the UK employment rate was estimated at 75.2%, 1.4% lower than before the pandemic (December 2019 to February 2020) but 0.2% higher than the previous quarter.

For the three months ending March 2021, the highest employment rate estimate in the UK was in the South East (78.5%) and the lowest was in Northern Ireland (69.1%).

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 4.8%, 0.8% higher than December 2019 to February 2020 but 0.3% lower than the previous quarter. For the three months ending March 2021, the highest unemployment rate estimate in the UK was in London (6.8%) and the lowest was in the South East (3.4%).

The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at 21.0%, 0.8% higher than December 2019 to February 2020 and 0.1% higher than the previous quarter.

In February 2021 to April 2021, the estimated number of vacancies reached its highest level since January 2020 to March 2020 (which is a pre-coronavirus pandemic period), with growth picking up in the most recent quarterly estimates.

In February 2021 to April 2021, there were an estimated 657,000 job vacancies, which is a growth of 8.0% (48,400) compared with last quarter,

ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said, “”The renewed lockdown at the beginning of 2021 saw a sharp rise in the number of previously unemployed people no longer looking for work, helping the unemployment rate to fall on the quarter. This mirrored what happened during the first lockdown.”

Chief Executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) Neil Carberry said, “Today’s figures show the labour market remained very resilient during the latest lockdown, and even show the beginnings of the recovery in hiring that business surveys are suggesting. It’s no surprise to see a fall in the total hours worked when restrictions were at their strictest. The fact that the number of payrolled employees increased during January-March alongside the headline employment rate is also a positive sign. With the announcement of lockdown easing in February and restrictions starting to lift in March, business confidence has grown, and we can see that in the growing number of job vacancies – especially in sectors like hospitality.

“The challenge for us all in the coming months will be helping people into the new jobs that are being created,” Carberry continued. “It was good to see some measures to improve the skills system in the Queen’s Speech, but more can and should be done. It’s clear that the Apprenticeship Levy is not working effectively – broadening it into a more flexible skills levy that all workers can use to access training would be a real boost, and speak to the government’s levelling up agenda.”

Mariano Mamertino, Senior Economist, EMEA at LinkedIn, said, “Today’s ONS data is another example of the UK labour market’s resiliency. While unemployment is still likely to rise in the coming months, particularly as the furlough programme unwinds, it increasingly looks like the peak will be a much lower level than had been predicted.”

“These latest numbers suggest that the UK labour market has stabilised in recent months, despite lockdown restrictions, which is positive news for people and businesses across the country. It will take more time, however, to get back to pre-pandemic levels of employment and bring people who were sidelined over the past year back into the labour force,” Mamertino added.