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News Item: UK jobs picture robust as Omicron struck

Britain’s unemployment rate dropped and payrolls recovered further at the end of last year despite the onset of the Omicron variant, official data showed Tuesday.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent in the three months to the end of November, from 4.2 percent in the quarter ending in October, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

The number of payrolled workers meanwhile jumped 0.6 percent in December from November, the ONS added.

“The number of employees on payrolls continued to grow strongly in December, with the total now well above pre-pandemic levels,” said ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan.

He added that the unemployment rate “fell back almost to where it was before Covid-19 hit”.

Morgan noted however that job vacancies were growing at a slower pace compared with last summer and that real wages in November fell on the year for the first time since mid-2020 following a spike to inflation.

All eyes will be on the latest UK inflation data due out Wednesday, as consumers and businesses struggle with surging costs.

“Rising inflation means that squeezed incomes joins the difficulties firms are facing filling vacancies as major challenges in the UK labour market,” Matthew Percival, director of employment at Britain’s main lobby group the CBI, said following Tuesday’s jobs data.

“To break this cycle and deliver sustainably rising living standards, the UK needs a plan to unleash business investment and raise ambitions for growth.”


– Jobs market ‘thriving’ –


Economies are battling against decades-high inflation that is forcing central banks to hike interest rates, including the Bank of England which last month raised its key borrowing cost to 0.25 percent.

The rate was increased from a record-low level of 0.1 percent.

At the same time, Britain’s economy has surpassed its pre-pandemic level after recording strong growth in November, recent official data showed.

British finance minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday’s unemployment figures “are proof that the jobs market is thriving, with employee numbers rising to record levels, and redundancy notifications at their lowest levels since 2006 in December”.

Some analysts however cautioned over the immediate outlook, amid energy bills soaring during the UK winter.

Average pay falling in real terms was “an unwelcome development which is likely to worsen over the next few months”, said EY ITEM Club economist Martin Beck.