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ONS Job market data: February 2020 | Recruitment News UK

Latest UK job market data from the Office for National Statistics shows that talent pools are at record low levels.

Britain risks a staffing drought that could test recruitment initiatives in the short-term. That is the conclusion being drawn from the latest set of job market figures released by the ONS last week.

The latest report, which tracks job market data from October to December 2019, finds a UK employment market with fewer opportunities and tougher conditions for employers and recruiters.

As firms tackle Brexit readiness and prepare for a shortfall in overseas applications, eBoss investigates the most recent official figures.


Employment for the months October to December 2019 was estimated at 76.5 per cent. The figure sets a new record high level. Employment at the end of 2019 was 0.6 per cent higher than a year earlier. Employment had also risen sharply, quarter-on-quarter. The figure rose 0.4 percent in the space of a single quarter.


UK unemployment currently stands at an estimated 3.8 per cent. That equals the record-low levels of the previous report. Unemployment going into 2020 was 0.2 per cent below that of the beginning of 2019.

Economic Inactivity

Economic inactivity measures the number of UK residents who are neither in work or education, and have not looked for employment within the last month. Job seekers who are unable to commence work within two weeks are also included within this demographic.

In the most recent ONS report, economic inactivity hit 20.5 per cent – the single lowest level on record. The rate of economic inactivity breached the previous record-low of one month earlier by 0.1 per cent.

The economic inactivity data was of particular significance this month. The home secretary had stated that this section of the population could be relied upon to ease staffing shortages. The figures make this assertion a more challenging goal to achieve.


The average UK salary increased by 2.9 per cent in nominal terms. When adjusted for inflation, this equates to a 1.8 per cent rise in take-home earnings.

Figures put squeeze on government planning

The leanness of the UK job market is applying pressure to the government’s post-Brexit planning. At present, the UK labour market has 810,000 unfilled vacancies. This figure shows a 7,000 increase on the previous quarter.

Although organisations are ultimately responsible for their own staffing shortfalls, the government has been eager to show that it is taking a lead on issues where Brexit may be seen to have a negative effect. The availability of in-demand skills is among the more contentious of those topics.

Find older ONS reports in our archive of recruitment news industry data.

Last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel suggested that the threatened rise of unfilled vacancies may be addressed by Britain’s economically inactive. However, the numbers show that this is the worst time in British history to fall back on the economically inactive. It means that staffing shortfalls will require a fresh solution to the ones being offered by central planning at present. Failure to provide contingency plans could leave enterprises in both the public and private sectors feeling abandoned by policies.

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