| 4 March 2024, Monday |

UK job vacancies rise above 1 million for first time

Brexit and the fallout from the COVID-19  pandemic, have caused British companies struggle with staff shortages.

British employers added a record 241,000 staff to their payrolls in August, while job openings surged 35 per cent in the three months to August to 1.03 million, the first time they have climbed above 1 million since records began in 2001. Vacancies rose even higher in August, to 1.12 million, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Meanwhile, unemployment dropped to 4.6 per cent in the three months through the end of July, from 4.7 per cent in the second quarter, as the economy reopened further.

However, the outlook remains clouded, with the government’s furlough jobs support scheme ending soon.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said the latest jobs data showed the unemployment rate has fallen for seven months in a row, while the number of employees on payrolls is b  ack above pre-pandemic levels.

“There were fewer potential redundancies notified in August than at any point since the start of last year,” Mr Sunak said.

“As we continue to recover from the pandemic, our focus remains on creating opportunities and supporting people’s jobs.”

In the three months through July, the number of people in employment, which includes the self-employed as well as employees, rose by 183,000.

July also marked the peak of a so-called “pingdemic,” when hundreds of thousands of staff were forced to self-isolate after being alerted by the National Health Service mobile phone app of close contact with a positive Covid-19 case.

The total number of employees in August was about the same level as before the pandemic, said Jonathan Arhow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics, but more than a million people are still on furlough.

“However, this recovery isn’t even,” he said. “In hard-hit areas such as London and sectors such as hospitality and arts and leisure the numbers of workers remain well down on pre-pandemic levels.

“The overall employment rate continues to recover, particularly among groups such as young workers who were hard hit at the outset of the pandemic, while unemployment has fallen.”

Average weekly earnings in the three months to July were 8.2 per cent higher than a year earlier, although the ONS said this was heavily distorted by pandemic and furlough-related effects.

Kitty Ussher, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said the economy is now “well prepared for the end of furlough”, with unemployment on a clear downwards trend.

Danni Hewson, financial analyst at AJ Bell, said the positive UK jobs data is “incredible” considering the disruption caused by the double hit of Covid and Brexit.

“But some of those positives are masking huge issues. Recovery has been uneven and there are big questions about how all those jigsaw pieces, pieces which no longer fit in a changed puzzle, will be slotted back into place,” she said.

“Pay can’t be the only solution. Training will be crucial and some businesses are already considering candidates without the requisite skills, prepared to offer training because the other option is simply unworkable.”