Trends in UK Employment

Anthony B. Masters
7 min readMar 23, 2019

Labour market statistics — particularly employment, unemployment and inactivity — are often a topic of fraught and politicised debate.

This article considers the trends in UK employment, to test various claims made about labour statistics, over the past quarter of a century. Many of these claims are found to be false or likely to be misleading.

An International Definition

Like other statistics offices in the European Union and the OECD countries, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) follows the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition of employment, for those aged 16 and over:

Employment: worked one hour or more in the week (either as an employee or self-employed), those with a job that they are temporarily away from (such as through illness and holidays), those on government-assisted training and work programmes, and those doing unpaid family work.

Unemployment: out of work, but actively seeking work in the past four weeks and available to start in the next two weeks, or have found a job and are waiting to start in the next two weeks;

Inactive: Without a job, and have not active sought work in the past four weeks, or are not not available to start work in the next two weeks.

‘Unpaid family workers’ means those who work for a family business, whilst not receiving a salary and profiting from the business. It does not mean unpaid family carers, baby-sitters or volunteers are classed as employed.

This definition is not set by the government, nor has there been any recent redefinition. Headline figures have been calculated in a consistent manner, and are comparable to when such records began in 1971. Additional information has been collected from the Labour Force Survey since 1992.

Some countries start their labour force population at a different age to the UK (e.g. France begins aged 15). Other statistics offices, such as the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, provide alternate measures of labour under-utilisation.

These definitions do not refer to receiving state unemployment payments or working credits. Whether you are…



Anthony B. Masters

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.