Big Issue Vendor

UK employment may be highest since 1971, but millions still live in poverty

Women and older people entered work at a particularly high rate between November and January
EPA/Andy Rain

Employment in the UK is at its highest in nearly 50 years with a surge of 222,000 more people in work compared to last year’s hiring period.

The current rate of 76.1 per cent employment, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), matches World War 2 figures.

More than 130,000 women got into work in the period between November 2018 and January this year, while older people also drove the labour market boom.

However while real wage growth is improving, analysts like the Resolution Foundation have pointed out that levels of weekly pay are still £9 lower than they were a decade ago.

And last year the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that four million people are trapped by in-work poverty, meaning around an eighth of people can be classed as working poor.

Today’s ONS figures show that unemployment fell by 34,000 to 1.34 million, the lowest since 1975.

ONS statistician Matt Hughes said: “The employment rate has reached a new record high, while the proportion of people who are neither working nor looking for a job – the so-called ‘economic inactivity rate’- is at a new record low.”

People can work as little as an hour and a work and be classed as employed for inclusion in these figures, calculated every three months through the Labour Force Survey.

However ONS data from November shows that the number of people working six hours a week or fewer sat at just 1.4 per cent.

Stephen Clarke, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said firms are choosing to invest heavily in new staff. “As a result,” he explained, “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 [in business] continues.”

In the same time period as these numbers were collected, fourteen million people were found to be living below the breadline.