UK Jobless rate drops as lifting of lockdown sparks hiring spree
By Holly Williams
Britain’s jobless rate has fallen further and payroll numbers surged higher as employers began hiring again thanks to the easing of lockdown measures, according to official figures.
The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) cheered “early signs of recovery” in the jobs market as the rate of unemployment fell once more, to 4.8% in January to March – the largest quarterly decrease since September to November 2015, and down from 4.9% in December to February.
More real-time figures showed UK workers on payrolls surged for the fifth month in a row in April as Britain’s economy began to spring back to life thanks to easing lockdown restrictions.
The ONS said the number of payroll workers rose by 97,000 between March and April, while it added that job vacancies also continued to increase as shops and outdoor dining reopened last month.
The latest figures show that vacancies hit the highest level since before the pandemic struck, at 657,000 between February and April.
Estimates showed vacancies recovering close to pre-pandemic levels in early April as firms began rehiring ahead of an expected surge in pent-up consumer demand, the ONS said.
The fall in the unemployment rate came despite the country being in tight lockdown in the first three months of 2021, with the ONS saying many unemployed were no longer looking for work.
But the data also showed the toll taken by the crisis on the jobs market, with 772,000 fewer UK workers on payrolls than before the pandemic struck last spring.
Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said: “The number of employees on payroll rose strongly in April as the economy began to reopen, continuing the improvement from its November trough.
“There remains, however, three quarters of a million people fewer on the payroll compared with the pre-pandemic peak.”
There were 1.6 million Britons unemployed in January to March, down 121,000 on the previous three months, according to the ONS.
And there were 32.5 million in employment, up 84,000 on the previous three months in a sign of resilience in the face of lockdown.
The Bank of England recently slashed its forecasts for unemployment over the year, now predicting that the jobless rate will peak at 5.5%, down from the 7.75% previously forecast thanks to a more rapid economic bounceback expected in 2021.
The ONS data showed the claimant count – another measure that includes people working with low incomes and hours, as well as people who are not working – fell month-on-month to 2.6 million in April.