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ONS Job Market Data: December 2020 | Recruitment News UK

Is Britain’s labour market de-coupling through COVID? A fresh spike in redundancies is met by a rise in vacancies and hours worked. It means that UK recruiters could be facing a period of unprecedented churn in the new year.

The latest Office for National Statistics figures for the UK labour market have been released. The data shows a continuation of some lockdown job market trends – but a reversal of others.

A spike in redundancies in the run-up to October has been matched by a bounce-back in the number of unfilled vacancies. Equally, unemployment grew, and economic inactivity fell. We will take a look at why this may mean an increased workload for recruiters in the new year.


Employment for August to October stood at 75.2 per cent. This is a 0.5 per cent drop from the previous quarter (May to July 2020). It is almost one per cent (0.9%) below employment exactly one year earlier.

Week-on-week estimates show that the quarterly average remained relatively constant throughout the current quarter. That is: there was no noticeable spike or crash in employment rates.


The rate of redundancy reached a new, all-time high for the second month in a row. New redundancies numbered 217,000 in the three months to October.

Total redundancies in the quarter hit 370,000 – beating last month’s previous all-time high by 56,000. Experimental ONS data suggests that the rate of redundancy may have started to slow by the end of the study period.

Unemployment and Economic Inactivity

Unemployment increased by 241,000 people in the three months, August to October. This works out as a 0.7 per cent rise in unemployment within the present quarter.

The twelve month trend follows a similar pattern: October unemployment recorded a 1.2 per cent increase for the year. Total unemployed stands at 1.69 million individuals.

Within this period of study, economic inactivity fell. Quarterly estimates place 8.6 million working-age people in economic inactivity. This is two thousand fewer than the previous quarter, and four thousand fewer than twelve months ago.

The significance of this data set is in the definition of each category. While redundancies hit an all-time high, and employment fell, economic inactivity did not increase. This will be important for recruiters because it suggests that newly out of work individuals are immediately seeking fresh employment opportunities.

Remember: unemployment measures those out of work who have actively searched for a job within the last three weeks. Inactivity is those who are out of work, but not engaged in the labour market.

The rapid increase in out of work individuals has not resulted in increased economic inactivity. This suggests that recruiters’ workloads have already begun to increase over the current quarter. Further growth in demand into the new year could put pressure on the resources of agencies that have not properly prepared.



Unemployment has increased by 318,000 over the last twelve months. The majority of this has occurred within the space of the current quarter. The November data finds 243,000 additional unemployed individuals compared to the previous report.

This puts the overall UK unemployment rate at 4.8 per cent. This is 0.7 per cent higher than the previous quarter, and is the result of record high rates of redundancy. Both net quarterly redundancies (314,000) and the rate of increase (181,000) set new all-time highs for the UK job market.

ONS projections suggest that this figure represents a steady increase in redundancies throughout the full period of study. That is to say, there was no brief window which acted as a flashpoint for redundancies; they increased steadily throughout.

Total unemployment was estimated at 1.62 million people.


Weekly Hours

Hours worked increased at a record rate. Average weekly hours per individual grew by 3.3 hours to 29.5 hours. This puts the average working week back to levels last seen in June 2013.

Total weekly hours worked hit 960 million. The numbers would suggest that – for those still in work – some parts of life are slowly returning to normal.

Key lessons

At the beginning of the pandemic, eBoss recruitment news suggested that a period of ‘global weirding’ would immanently hit our industry. this phenomenon would be characterised by sudden and dramatic changes in the underlying changes in the job market.

The last two months of government data are beginning to illustrate this theory in full effect. Mass redundancies are sparking unpredictable periods of trade in the recruitment market. Responsiveness to these changes is paramount. Recruiters will increasingly have to act swiftly to answer an influx of candidates, sudden bursts of hiring activity, and moments of stability and slow recovery.

You can download the complete ONS job market data report as a pdf document here