East of England employees see biggest increase in working hours as pressure on wages continues

Unemployment has fallen to record lows – but the average wage has also slumped, according to new statistics.

The latest labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show 32.1 million people in the UK were in work between June and August 2017, 317,000 more than a year earlier, an employment rate of 75.1%.

The unemployment rate during the period was at its lowest since 1975, at 4.3%, with 1.44 million people out of work – 52,000 fewer than in the previous three months.

However, inflationary pressures on people’s pay packets are continuing.

While weekly earnings in nominal terms increased by 2.1% (excluding bonuses) from June to August, once adjusted for inflation, they actually fell by 0.4%.

Think tank the Resolution Foundation said this fall in real terms pay means average earnings are no higher than they were in February 2006.

This news could be particularly hard to swallow for employees in the East of England, who have seen the biggest increase in hours worked per week over the past year of any region in the country.

Between July 2016 and June 2017 employees worked an average of 0.3 hours more compared with July 2015 to June 2016 – an increase of 0.8%.

Julia Nix, Jobcentre Plus district manager for East Anglia, believed this rise could be attributed to fewer people in part-time work.

“It could indicate an increase from part-time to full-time or permanent work, rather than relying on zero-hours contracts.

“As people on universal credit can work more than 16 hours a week, they are far more comfortable doing as much work as they can.”

The employment rate in the East for June to August was above the national average at 77.6%, the third highest rate in the country, while the unemployment rate was 3.9%, down 0.2% on the previous three months.

The number of people claiming employment-related benefits in the county in September was 7,280, of whom 1,645 were aged 16-24.

Hundreds of manufacturing jobs are currently at risk in Norwich including at Allied Bakeries and Britvic, while supermarket Sainsbury’s announced its intention this week to cut around 1,400 HR and administration jobs in its stores nationwide.

But Ms Nix said there was enough capacity in the job market to swallow these casualties should jobs be lost and predicted manufacturing and engineering firms would be “queuing up” to take on jobseekers.

“We know we have employers wanting to take on good employees,” she said. “I am confident of the demand from employers. Today I know I have enough that will be interested – even those without vacancies may take candidates for interview.”

She said pacing out redundancies could also help in re-deploying workers, as it had with the closure of Cromer Crab Company, which saw 250 people lose their jobs.

She added: “I hope this is just a couple of industries that have been hit hard and we are not talking about anything bigger.”

A recent report by the TUC on industry in East Anglia said although unemployment is low in the area, pay is as well, with only a handful of local authorities in Norfolk and Suffolk having annual wages above the national average.

Richard Tunnicliffe, East of England director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: “Persistently weak productivity, coupled with falling real wages, continues to hit living standards, underlining the need for the chancellor to bold in his Budget.”

Courtesy of EDP Business News

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