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Job vacancies shrunk 25% in run up to lockdown

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Job vacancies and hours worked had started to fall in the lead up to the coronavirus lockdown, figures show. 

Vacancies in the UK fell by a quarter to 637,000 in the three months to April – the largest annual decrease since the financial crash.

The decline in vacancies was reported across firms of all sizes but was more severe among smaller firms with up to 49 employees.

Accommodation, food service and other service activity sectors also saw a larger decline in vacancies.

Meanwhile, average weekly hours worked fell by 2.5% to 31.4 hours between January and March.

Again, the largest loss of actual hours worked was in the accommodation and food services industry (-11.8%) and the smallest loss was in the human health and social work activities industry (-0.4%).

The decline in hours worked is partly down to the number of staff furloughed.

The accommodation and food services industry accounted for the highest furloughing rate recorded (80%), the ONS said.

The data only captures the impact of the pandemic in the last three weeks of March so the full impact of coronavirus will only be revealed in the coming months.

‘We could yet see a big shift in employment’

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said that while official jobs figures don’t look too alarming yet, the early warning signs from hours worked, vacancies, and experimental PAYE figures all point to much worse to come.

“By furloughing 8.7 million people, the number of hours worked has tanked – and for men it has fallen to a record low – but widespread redundancies have been avoided so far. The test will come in August when employers either have to bring people back to work, or find the money to pay a share of the furlough. And at that stage, we could see a big shift in employment,” she said.

Coles added that people need to plan for the worst case.

“If you can spare any cash at all, anything you can put aside now will make a big difference to you later. Meanwhile, you should also look at where you would stand in terms of benefits, which will give you a head start if things do get worse.

“And while vacancies are falling, they’re not as low as they were during the financial crisis, so it pays to think about finding work. Even if your industry has all-but shut down, consider how you can best use your skills to find work somewhere until the worst of this passes.”

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