Labour market trends in Great Britain – The impact of COVID-19

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released new jobs figures for 2020 as part of the Business Register & Employment Survey (BRES). This note presents analysis of the regional data. Figures are also available for local authorities and contact details are provided at the end of the note should further analysis be of interest.

Employment in Great Britain The 2020 BRES data provide a more up to date picture of employment trends in Great Britain and the analysis presented here summarises the main findings, looking at recent trends in the labour market. The BRES data for 2020 are based  on information obtained from a sample of companies in September 2020, therefore it picks up some of the impacts the Covid-19 pandemic had on employment last year.

Employment Change, 2019-20

Table 1 shows the jobs change broken down by region for 2019 to 2020 and highlights the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the labour market. The main points to note are

  • • Total jobs numbers in Great Britain declined from just over 31 million in 2019 to around 30.5 million in 2020, a fall of 533,000 jobs or 1.7%.
  • • The only region to experience jobs growth between 2019 and 2020 was the East of England which saw a modest increase of 0.2%.
  • • The North West had the biggest relative decline in jobs with a fall of 2.6% (90,000 fewer jobs). This was followed by the North East which experienced a 2.5% decline in jobs (28,000)
  • • In absolute terms the South East had the largest fall in the number of jobs with a decline of 109,000 (this represents a decrease of 2.5%). This was followed by London which saw a decline of 103,000 (1.9% fall in jobs).
  • In terms of the sectors most affected by the pandemic, accommodation & food services saw employment fall by 188,000 in Great Britain between 2019 and 2020. This was followed by arts, entertainment, recreation & other services (111,000 fewer jobs) and manufacturing (83,000 fewer jobs).

When the 2021 BRES data are released in 2022, it will be interesting to assess the extent to which job numbers have recovered, especially given the high number of vacancies since lockdown restrictions were eased in July 2021.

Table 1: Jobs Change by Region, 2019-20

Labour market trends

Source: Business Register & Employment Survey Note: Figures may not sum due to rounding.

Employment Change 2015-20

Looking at labour market trends over a longer timeframe, between 2015 and 2020 employment in Great Britain increased from just over 29.8 million to just over 30.5 million. This represents an increase of almost 730,000 jobs, equating to 0.5% growth per annum over the five years. Table 2 shows jobs change broken down by region from 2015-20. The main points to note are:

  • In relative terms, the East saw the highest jobs growth between 2015 and 2020, experiencing an annual increase of 1.1% (155,000 additional jobs in total), followed by the North West which saw a percentage annual increase of 0.9% over the five-year period (148,000 additional jobs)
  • In absolute terms, London saw the highest growth, with 183,000 new jobs between 2015 and 2020, followed by the East with an increase of 155,000.
  • Scotland and the North East both saw a decline in employment of 20,000 less jobs, equating to an annual fall of 0.2% and 0.4% respectively over the five years.

Table 2: Jobs Change by Region, 2015-20

Labour market trends

Source: Business Register & Employment Survey Note: Figures may not sum due to rounding.

Employment Change by Sector, 2015-20

Table 3 shows jobs growth between 2015 and 2020 by broad sector in Great Britain. The main points to note are:

  • In relative terms, the transport and storage sector saw the highest annual increase in jobs between 2015 and 2020 at 2.5% (180,000 new jobs in total), followed by the information and communication sector at 1.9% growth per annum (120,000 jobs).
  • In absolute terms, the public administration, education, and health sector sector saw the largest growth of 287,000 jobs over the five years, equating to annual growth rate of 0.7%.
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum, jobs in the arts, entertainment, recreation and other services sector decreased by 0.9% per annum, translating to a loss of 63,000 jobs between 2015 and 2020. The wholesale and retail sector declined by 0.7% per annum, a loss of 150,000 jobs and the manufacturing sector also fell with an annual decline of 0.4%, a loss of 48,000 jobs.

Labour market trends

Source: Business Register & Employment Survey Note: Figures may not sum due to rounding.

For more information about the contents of this briefing note, please contact our Economics team on:

Richard Cook, Director – Economics

Andrew Poulton – Principal Economic Analyst

Niamh Ruane – Economic Analyst

Additional Information

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