Employment

The UK is on course for the worst post-pandemic jobs recovery of all rich Western nations

There are 600,000 more Brits out of work and not looking for a job than there were before Covid hit, new research has found

Nurses voted to reject ministers' offer of a three per cent pay rise. National insurance rise

Nurses voted to reject ministers' offer of a three per cent pay rise. Image: Pexels

The UK is on course to have the worst Covid recovery of all rich Western nations when it comes to employment, according to new research, thanks to a depleted workforce and lack of effective job support.

There are 600,000 more Brits out of work and not looking for a job than there were in 2019, driven by long-term sickness, disability, or people taking early retirement, the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has found.  

It puts the UK bottom of the 38 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Only Latvia and Switzerland still have employment rates lower than before the pandemic but both are improving fast, meaning the UK will likely be left as the only country not to have recovered to pre-pandemic levels by early 2023.

“Compared to workers in other European countries, disabled people and older people are much less likely to be in work in the UK,” said Kate Bell, head of economics at the Trades Union Congress, in response to the new research.

“That’s a huge waste of potential. If we closed only half the gap with the best in Europe that would mean a million more people in work. A plan to achieve that should be a national priority.”

The OECD is composed largely of European countries as well as the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica.

Lower migration due to Brexit and the pandemic has also left the UK with half a million fewer workers from other countries than there would have been had the country continued on the path it was on before 2016, IES calculated.

The NHS, prison service and education sectors have all struggled to recruit staff over the past year, impacting the service they are able to provide. Long-term sickness and disability have proven to be consistent barriers to employment and many older workers have opted for early retirement.

A government spokesperson said it is investing in employment support for disabled people and older workers.

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As chancellor, Rishi Sunak unveiled his Plan for Jobs 12 months ago to help furlough-leavers and universal credit claimants into work. It included £500m to support younger people with little to no work experience and older people who might struggle to find work. One of Sunak’s flagship schemes, Kickstart, saw a third of its vacancies left unfilled when it ended in April 2022. 

“There’s been a lot of focus on why so many people have left the labour force since the start of the pandemic,” said IES director Tony Wilson, referring to inquiries such as into the NHS staffing crisis. “But the most important question now is how we help people get back.”

The researchers found just one fifth of jobseekers use the Jobcentre Plus, and of those who do, only one in three said they were satisfied with the help to find work. Less than a fifth of employers use the service designed to offer recruitment support.

”There is little help for employers and a complicated, fragmented and often under-funded system of programmes, schemes and services,” Wilson said.

The IES has now launched The Commission on the Future of Employment Support to develop a blueprint for better employment support.

“We’ve got a real opportunity now to look again at our approach and build something for the future that can support higher growth, better living standards and local economies,” Wilson added.

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A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “In the UK we’ve seen 1.3 million more disabled people in work compared to 2017 – hitting a government commitment to unlock their potential five years early. Over the next three years, the Government will invest £1.3 billion in employment support for disabled people to help more people start, stay and succeed in work.

“We are also investing an extra £22 million to tackle unemployment among over 50s, including expanding our Jobcentre Mid-Life MOT service and providing tailored support through our Older Worker Champions. That investment is paying off as there are now two million more workers 50 and over in work than in 2010.”

To support people facing barriers to sustainable employment, Big Issue Group has created free, person-centred service Big Issue Recruit. Find out how Big Issue Recruit could help you into employment, or fill your vacancies, here.

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