February jobs figures: A record breaking month, driven by disabled people and full-time work

Blog posts

18 Feb 2020

Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson, Institute Director

Today’s jobs figures, reporting on October to December 2019, show that the labour market ended the year in fine form – with record high employment, falling unemployment and a new record low for ‘economic inactivity’ (the measure of those out of work and neither looking nor available for work).  

Employment rose by 340 thousand on the year, driven in particular by full time, permanent work – with both part-time and temporary employment falling.  And while earnings growth was subdued last month, with vacancies showing signs of picking up and employer confidence rising, the outlook for the labour market in 2020 is looking positive.  

There is also good news on employment of disabled people, with the quarterly figures released today showing that employment increased by 440 thousand among disabled people last year, to 4.36 million – while employment of non-disabled people actually fell over the last year by 110 thousand.  As a consequence, the ‘gap’ in employment rates fell in the last year, from 30 to 28 percentage points.  Nonetheless with just 54% of disabled people in work, compared with over 82% for those without an impairment, disabled people remain more than two-and-a-half times more likely to be out of work than their non-disabled peers.

Data on employment by ethnicity was also published today, and here the news has been less positive.  While employment grew for both white people and those from ethnic minority groups, the growth in the employment rate was twice as large for the former as the latter.  As a consequence, the gap in employment rates between white people and ethnic minority groups has actually grown over the last year, from 11.2 to 11.5%.

There was also mixed news on age and employment today.  While the last year saw welcome, continued growth in employment of older people – accounting for two thirds of all employment growth, driven particularly by older women – employment of young people has fallen slightly on the year, by 40 thousand.  Nearly one million young people, outside of education and not in work, are continuing to miss out on the labour market recovery.

Another group missing out on the recovery has been those with health conditions, and perhaps the most worrying sign in today’s figures has been a continued growth in economic inactivity due to long-term ill health – which now stands at 2.08 million, up from two million a year ago.  With nearly two million inactive people stating that they want to work, unemployment at record lows and an increasingly tight labour market, how we support those furthest from work will be an increasing economic and social priority in the year ahead.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.