The UK unemployment rate rose to a near five-year high in the fourth quarter as the coronavirus pandemic continued to weigh on the labor market amid the ongoing tight restrictions.
At 5.1 percent, the jobless rate was the highest since 2016, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed Tuesday. The rate was 0.4 percentage points higher than the previous quarter and matched economists' expectations.
At the same time, the employment rate dropped 0.3 percentage points from the prior quarter to 75.0 percent.
The number of people looking for jobs increased by 121,000 sequentially, while employment declined by 144,000.
"Throughout the crisis, my focus has been on doing everything we can to protect jobs and livelihoods," Chancellor Rishi Sunak said. In next week's budget, Sunak said he will set out measures to support jobs through the remainder of the pandemic and help recovery.
There are tentative early signs of the labor market stabilizing at the end of the last year, Jonathan Athow, ONS deputy national statistician, said.
The labor market will probably continue to gradually weaken over the rest of this year, even if the furlough scheme is extended beyond the end of April in next week's budget, Thomas Pugh, an economist at Capital Economics, said.
But a rapid rebound in GDP in the second half of 2021 should prevent the unemployment rate from reaching global financial crisis highs of 8.4 percent, the economist noted.
Data showed that average earnings including bonuses rose 4.7 percent in three months to December, which was well above the expected rate of 4.1 percent. Excluding bonus, average earnings grew 4.1 percent versus the forecast of 4 percent.
The redundancy rate was 12.3 people per thousand employees in the fourth quarter. In January, claimant count decreased 20,000 from the previous month.
In three months to January, the number of job vacancies was 26 percent lower than a year ago. But this was an improvement on the position in summer 2020.
Another report from the ONS showed that labor productivity, as measured by output per hour, fell by 1.1 percent from a year ago in the fourth quarter.
Output per worker declined 6.3 percent largely because of retained employment through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, while not undertaking working activities.