It has long been said that us Brits are capable of talking ourselves into a recession. No sooner than we heard that the UK had left the double dip recession in the third quarter, economists were talking about the chances of us slipping back into negative growth this quarter.
The inevitable chitter chatter on ‘two negative quarters make a recession’ followed suit and before long, economists were predicting negative growth this quarter and possibly next, raising fears of a triple dip recession.
A slew of other, weak economic data this week, including official reports showing that activity at factories collapsed at the start of October, does not help either. It still feels like doom and gloom out there. There are some 2.5m people out of work, wages growth is subdued and almost 1m young people are unemployed.
But there are, at last, some good signs that all this doom and gloom might be about to ease. Employment is at a record-high, and for once, it isn’t simply because more people are trapped in part-time jobs, self-employment or under-employment.
A series of press releases sent to my inbox in the last few days from recruiters have claimed the labour market is changing. One from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said the growth of permanent staff appointments had “strengthened” in November, with a sharper expansion of job vacancies.
It’s difficult not to take these kind of releases with a pinch of salt; after all, they would say that wouldn’t they?
But the official figures today suggest that some of these more positive predictions and releases may be, dare I say it, right.
Unemployment has fallen again in the UK, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday. Employment is at a record high.
However, the latest ONS figures show that the number of people forced to work part-time because they cannot find full-time work has decreased by 20,000, to 1.41m.
The number of people in temporary jobs because they couldn’t find a permanent job has also fallen by 8,000 to 650,000, the figures showed.
In a further sign that “underemployment” may be easing, self-employment fell by 23,000 to 4,200, the ONS figures showed.
Overall, part-time work – which is at a near-record high – fell by 4,000 over the period to 8.12m. The bulk of the rise in employment came from permanent employees; the number of employees in the labour market shot up by 47,000 to 25.12m, the ONS said.
Net employment overall rose by 40,000 – taking the total number of people in work, including self-employment and part-timers, to a record 29.6m.
However, some 171,000 people are now in government-supported training schemes – a 12.6pc rise on the quarter – and a cautionary sign that not all of those counted as employed have actual jobs.
Nevertheless, the figures will provide a boost for Prime Minister David Cameron as the economy shows signs of cooling after emerging from recession in the third quarter.
Still suffering, though are workers’ wages. Today’s report showed that pay growth held at 1.8pc in the three months through October; well below inflation. Stripping out bonuses it slowed to 1.7pc from 1.9pc.
Public-sector employment fell 24,000 in the third quarter to 5.75m, the lowest since 2002.
But private-sector employment rose by 65,000 to 23.9m, and that’s got to be a good thing.
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