UK Employment Figures, December 2018: Jobs Data Buoyant Despite Brexit Headwinds

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ONS data reveals few surprises as employment rate repeats last April’s record high and pay continues to grow despite growing uncertainty

The final ONS labour market update of 2018 revealed few surprises. Britain’s labour market remained stable despite strong Brexit headwinds, with the employment rate  creeping back up to April’s record high of 75.7%. The unemployment rate remained at 4.1% – low by historical standards – and there was further good news for workers, as average weekly earnings grew at a healthy rate of 3.3% over last year.

Yet, while nominal earnings inched up, the rising cost of living means purchasing power heading into the festive holiday season is barely shifting. The average weekly salary is only £4.50 higher in real terms than it was a year ago – barely the cost of a mulled wine. Real pay remains below its pre-crisis peak and well below the pre-crisis trend.

There was also not a lot of good news for employers. With 848,000 vacancies across the UK, the ratio of unemployed people per vacancy remains at a historical low of 1.6. As a result, employers have decisions to make: raise wages to attract recruits, or broaden their search and tap into underused talent pools. While January traditionally provides a boost in jobseeking activity, the tightness of the labour market and the slow but steady outflow of EU nationals from Britain’s labour market mean recruiters will have to fight harder – and look further – for every new hire in the new year.

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