Six in 10 staff removed from payrolls were under 25

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The number of workers on company payrolls is climbing, but there were 693,000 fewer employees last month than in February 2020 – with under-25s bearing the brunt of job losses.

According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, around 68,000 more people were on PAYE payroll submissions to HM Revenue & Customs in February 2021 than the previous month.

The unemployment rate also improved slightly, reducing from 5.1% to 5%.

However, the data – published a year since the country first went into lockdown – confirms that young people have borne the brunt of job losses.

The ONS found that 63.1% (437,000) of the jobs lost were held by people under 25 years old and a quarter (174,000) were held by those aged 25 to 34 years.

More than half (368,000) of the roles that have disappeared from payrolls can be attributed to the accommodation and food services sector and 17% (123,000) were in retail and wholesale – both sectors that traditionally employ younger workers.

Claims that vast swathes of non-UK workers have moved abroad were not corroborated by the ONS data. Less than 180,000 non-UK nationals have left company payrolls over the past year.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, ONS deputy chief executive Sam Beckett said: “We looked at this because there have been suggestions of very large numbers of non-UK workers leaving the UK. But our analysis of the payroll data… shows that this really isn’t the case.”

Around five million staff remained on furlough – down from the peak of nine million, but still up on the previous quarter.

Other findings include:

  • The average worker worked 29.9 hours per week in November 2020 to January 2021 – up 0.4 hours compared with August to October 2020
  • The redundancy rate fell to 11 per thousand in the three months to January 2021, down from 13.3 the previous quarter
  • In December 2020 to February 2021 there were an estimated 601,000 vacancies, 26.8% fewer than a year earlier.

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser for the CIPD, said: “Today’s figures confirm the fragility of the labour market and indicate that talk of a strong employment recovery is premature. It’s good news that redundancies continue to fall while the number of employees are increasing very modestly. However, there’s been a worrying rise in economic inactivity, which strengthens the need for more government intervention, particularly with the end of furlough in sight.

There’s been a worrying rise in economic inactivity, which strengthens the need for more government intervention, particularly with the end of furlough in sight” – Gerwyn Davies, CIPD

“[They] also lay bare the impact that the significant pandemic has had on young people, with the under 25s being particularly affected by the weak conditions in the labour market.”

Davies said the UK’s plan for economic recovery needs to involve support for young people, including jobs, apprenticeships, volunteering and work experience placements.

Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive Neil Carberry said: “These figures offer further evidence that the jobs market has weathered the 2021 lockdown better than feared.

“The economy is well-placed to bounce back as restrictions are lifted – but many people will need support transitioning into the new roles that emerge. Radical reform of the skills system – including the failed apprenticeship levy – will be vital.”

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