Image Source: Tony Webster
Chloe Shakesby

"Like watching a free fall in slow motion": The UK reacts to latest employment statistics

Statistics released today have revealed that 80 per cent of jobs lost over the last year were those belonging to under-35s.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported today that in the year to the end of March, the UK saw 811,000 payroll jobs lost, with 80 per cent of these being roles filled by under-35s.

Today’s report also showed that the unemployment rate fell from 5 per cent to 4.9 per cent in the quarter to February, with five million people still furloughed.

Leaders and experts from across the country commented on today’s figures.

Suren Thiru, BCC

“The latest data confirms that the UK labour market remains subdued. While there was a marginal fall in the unemployment rate, the squeeze on activity from ongoing restrictions helped drive a decline in payroll employment in March.

“Unemployment remains on course to peak towards the end of 2021, once the furlough scheme expires and those who stopped job hunting during the pandemic look to return to the workforce as restrictions ease.

“Although the furlough scheme will limit the peak in job losses, the longer-term structural unemployment caused by Covid-19, particularly among young people, may mean that the road back to pre-pandemic levels lags behind the wider economic recovery.

“Further action will be needed to support the labour market when the furlough scheme ends, including supporting businesses to recruit and retain staff through a temporary cut in employer national insurance contributions.”

Danni Hewson, AJ Bell

“It might seem odd to be looking back when so much of the focus over the past couple of weeks has been on the future but it is important to understand the scale of the economic jolt the country has had.

“Most of the data published by the ONS today is unsurprising but it does reinforce the huge challenges ahead.

“Whilst the unemployment rate fell a sliver for the three months to the end of February, early indicators suggest there was a further decrease in the number of employees on the payroll in March, down 56,000 from the previous month.

“Once again the data confirms that it’s the under 25s bearing the brunt of lockdown restrictions – just over half of those falling off payrolls in the past year have been in this age bracket.

“But the playing field is levelling off; vacancies in sectors like hospitality were up in March as businesses geared up for lockdown release.

“However, it’s important to remember these figures are still skewed by the hundreds of thousands of workers supported by the government’s furlough scheme.

“Whilst the hope is the majority of those will be reintegrated back into the workforce, hope doesn’t pay the bills. Until the temporary ends, the reality can only be weighed and considered.”

Eleanor Harrison, Impetus

“With a new record low for the number of under 25s currently in work, it’s clear that young people need long-term support. 

 “With lockdown easing and the vaccine rollout success fostering a sense of optimism, we need to do everything possible to support young people into meaningful work, starting with the extension of the government’s flagship youth employment scheme, Kickstart.

“Many employers have had no choice but to delay their Kickstart placements given the continuing disruption of lockdowns. Extending Kickstart beyond December will give existing and potential Kickstart employers the time they need to implement their plans and offer thousands more young people the opportunity of employment.”

 “With yet more evidence that this pandemic has hit young people hardest in the jobs market, now is the time to give them the much-needed support they need to thrive. This investment will benefit us all.”   

**Chris Locke, ASPIRE**

“Every month we watch the headline number of job losses slowly catch up with industry unemployment predictions. As we see the impact of the phased withdrawal of the furlough scheme there’s little doubt we will soon hit the numbers predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility, where 2.2 million Brits will be out of work.

“It’s like watching a free fall in slow motion. The World Economic Forum has predicted that the double disruption caused by the pandemic and automation is likely to displace 85 million jobs by 2025 and, among those set to remain in their roles, 50 per cent will need reskilling by 2025. Reskilling is key - the jobs market is changing. Reskilling en masse is going to be a huge challenge, but the disruption caused by the pandemic has made it inevitable.”

Sarah Coles, Hargreaves Lansdown

“The latest lockdown killed off tens of thousands of jobs for young people, Londoners, and those working in hotels and restaurants. March was the final straw for many businesses, who finally gave up and let staff go.

“February had looked so promising, with a 50,000 fall in unemployment over three months, but this was quickly followed by a 56,000 collapse in March.

“The furlough scheme is keeping a lid on redundancies: we saw a record fall in job losses in the three months to February.

“However, when the Chancellor announced the future for the scheme, businesses took stock. And while some decided it was enough to soldier on, many of them realised that social distancing and restrictions meant some staff had to go – particularly in hospitality businesses.

“The blow is particularly harsh for young people, who made up more than half of these losses. This is a function of the concentration of younger workers in hotels and restaurants that have been knocked sideways by the pandemic.

“However, this will come as no comfort at all to them. Job losses at this stage in life, with alternatives so thin on the ground, can make it particularly difficult for those with little experience to get back into the workplace.

“And while wage rises for those still in employment look like good news at first glance, the figures have been flattered enormously by the loss of these lower paid jobs. When you remove the impact of job losses, wage inflation almost halves – to 2.5 per cent.”

Niamh Corcoran, North East England Chamber of Commerce

“Employment statistics released today continue to show the labour market in a relatively stable state, likely due to the support of the Job Retention Scheme.

“Overall, the region’s employment rate grew, and unemployment rate fell marginally over the quarter.

“With the furlough scheme successfully protecting jobs, it is distorting the true picture. It is likely that the full extent of the pandemic’s impact on the regional labour market will only be clear once the scheme is wound down.

“It is at that point that government will need to act quickly to mitigate spikes in regional unemployment.

“Worryingly, today’s national data exposes the significant impact of the pandemic on the employment prospects of young people. In the UK, more than half of those losing their jobs over the last year were below the age of 25, and 78 per cent were under 35.

“With young people bearing the brunt of the crisis, the government should urgently extend the Kickstart Scheme and strengthen the apprenticeships system to increase the opportunities for young people.”

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