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Employment rate at highest level since 1970s

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Employment in the UK rose in the three months to December 2016 to nearly 32 million people but wage growth unexpectedly dipped, official figures reveal.

The employment rate for the period was 74.6%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

There were 31.84 million people in work in the October to December period, 37,000 more than for the previous three-months and 302,000 more than a year earlier. The number of women in work has also risen to a record rate of 70%, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The unemployment rate for the last quarter was 4.8%, down from 5.1% a year earlier, with 1.60 million not in work but seeking employment. This rate continues to run at an 11-year low, down from 900,000 since 2010.

Wage growth dipped slightly to 2.6% over the last year, from 2.8% recorded between September and November 2016 and the ONS stated average regular pay (excluding bonuses) was £477 per week before tax and other deductions while total pay (including bonuses) was £507 per week before tax and other deductions.

Brexit doom-mongers defied

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said following yesterday’s news that CPI inflation jumped to 1.8% last month and is forecast to hit 2.8% early next year, combined with today’s slightly lower wage growth figures, real wages could fall at some stage, squeezing household budgets as we move through the year.

“Economists and financial institutions have repeatedly forecast the UK’s unemployment rate will rise as a result of the vote to leave the EU. Yet the UK labour market continues to confound the doom-mongers with its resilience to the Brexit shock.

“The claimant count, which in a quirk of the data is a more recent figure than the unemployment rate, showed the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits fell by 42,400 in January, against expectations of a small rise. The claimant count figure is often viewed as an early warning signal of a potential economic downturn, so this surprise fall is very good news.”

Brettell said this is yet more evidence that the labour market and the wider economy have fared better than expected since June’s referendum.

“Until it becomes clearer exactly how and when we might leave the European Union, it appears to be business as usual for the UK’s firms and employees.”

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