Anticipated employer nervousness about Brexit has yet to show up

Published: 15 Feb 2017

Nigel Meager, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, comments on today's ONS Labour Market Statistics:

‘The latest employment statistics suggest that in the six months following the EU referendum there was no discernible impact on the labour market.

The figures remain very strong, with the employment rate at its highest since comparable records began, the unemployment rate the lowest for eleven years, and total labour hours worked continuing to grow.

Self-employment continues its remarkable growth, potentially fuelling the growing debate about the ‘gig economy’ and where the boundary between waged employment and self-employment should be set for legal and tax purposes.

Interestingly, the most recent data show that nearly all the latest growth in self-employment has been among full-time workers, in contrast to recent years when much of it was part-time self-employment.

Employer nervousness about Brexit, anticipated by some, has yet to show up in any real fall in hiring activity. While the growth in unfilled vacancies has undoubtedly flattened off since last summer, it has nevertheless remained at the historically high level of around three-quarters of a million since.

It seems safe to conclude, over six months on, that the labour market has been almost entirely resilient to any uncertainty following the referendum vote.  However, very little has actually happened yet in economic, policy or legislative terms, and what has happened (in particular the fall in Sterling) has, if anything, given the economy and labour market a short-term boost. It is certainly still too early to conclude that a substantive impact will not appear once clarity emerges regarding migration rules, trading and tariff arrangements, and employment regulation in the run-up to Brexit itself.’