Britain is enjoying a ‘jobs miracle’ that has pushed national unemployment down to within a whisker of its pre-pandemic level.
In another upbeat summary of the UK economy, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the jobless rate fell to 4.1 per cent between September and November.
That left unemployment just a fraction above the 4 per cent seen before Covid hit, well below the current 7.2 per cent seen in the eurozone and a far cry from doom-laden forecasts of 9 per cent as the coronavirus crisis erupted.
In a further boost, companies took on a record 184,000 staff in December and vacancy numbers stand at an all-time high of 1.25million.
The figures came just days after a separate ONS report showed economic output exceeding pre-pandemic levels for the first time in November.
The Office for National Statistics said the jobless rate fell to 4.1% between September and November, leaving unemployment just a fraction above the 4% seen before Covid hit
Economists hailed an ’employment miracle’ while Tory MPs praised Boris Johnson for his handling of the crisis.
The health of the jobs market is largely down to the furlough scheme, which supported millions when they could not work and prevented a wave of mass redundancies.
But the better-than-expected jobs figures also vindicated the Prime Minister’s plan to keep the economy open over Christmas.
Labour frontbenchers had been pushing for renewed restrictions to deal with the newly-discovered Omicron variant despite warnings that this could cause a fresh surge of redundancies.
Left-wing critics also warned that the end of furlough in September would lead to a sharp rise in unemployment.
But under Mr Johnson’s plan, Britain’s rebound was ‘barely blown off course’ by Omicron, economists say.
The UK’s recovery is now pulling away from many of its European rivals. Britain’s jobless rate is well below the eurozone average while France, Italy and Spain all have figures significantly higher.
UK employers added a record 184,000 jobs to the economy in December, undeterred by the end of the furlough scheme. Pictured: Waitress at Manchester’s Home Sweet Home restaurant
Ex-Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said last night Mr Johnson ‘made the right decision before Christmas not to lock down’, adding: ‘He knew that work matters, particularly to the poorest in the land, and keeping the economy moving is vital. Work is the best way to lift you out of poverty.
‘The figures today show that compared to most other countries, we in the UK have a jobs miracle taking place.’
Euler Hermes, which provides insurance for global trade deals, predicted that the UK economy would grow by 4.4 per cent this year, outpacing both the EU and the US.
Its economist Ana Boata said trade would be boosted by the lifting of Covid restrictions.
UK employers added a record 184,000 jobs to the economy in December, undeterred by the end of the furlough scheme.
There are now a total of 29.5million employees on companies’ books – some 409,000 more than before the pandemic.
The numbers were boosted by hiring in accommodation and food services businesses, as pubs and hotels pulled in more staff to prepare for Christmas. And there was little sign of a slump on the horizon.
Job vacancies hit yet a record high of 1.25million between October and December, as companies struggled to find staff.
Demand was particularly high in health and social work, where vacancies hit a new high of 206,000.
Jack Kennedy, UK economist at job site Indeed, said: ‘The Omicron storm finally broke in December, but the booming jobs market was barely blown off course.’
Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at research consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the UK was ‘in the midst of an employment miracle’.
Economists hailed an ’employment miracle’ while Tory MPs praised Boris Johnson (pictured) for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis
He pointed out that employment was on the rise, and redundancies in the three months to November were the lowest since 1995.
Mr Tombs added: ‘That’s astonishing, given that the furlough scheme was wound down at the end of September, with 646,000 staff fully furloughed and a further 505,000 furloughed for some hours on the final day of the scheme.’
Labour criticised the Government for withdrawing the £70billion scheme at the end of September, branding Mr Johnson ‘cruel’.
But the wave of predicted redundancies never materialised.
Danni Hewson of investment platform AJ Bell, said: ‘Furlough was seen as the cotton wool that cushioned the UK’s jobs market from the ravages of Covid.
‘The end of the scheme filled many with dread, and a fear that those still being protected would find themselves out of work sending unemployment levels soaring.
‘The reality is an intriguing picture with a record level of job vacancies, the number of employees more than 400,000 above that pre-pandemic and the redundancy rate at a record low.’
… but cost of living crisis deepens as wages stall and food prices soar
By Chief City Reporter for the Daily Mail
Workers have seen rises in their pay packets lag behind soaring inflation for the first time in more than a year as the squeeze on UK households tightens.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics yesterday showed wages failed to keep up with inflation in November.
Average pay rose 3.5 per cent in the 12 months to November, but it came as inflation – or the rise in the cost of living – hit a decade high of 5.1 per cent.
This pushed ‘real wages’ down by 1 per cent, according to the ONS.
The fall in real wages is the third in a decade, following the slump between 2011 and 2014 after the financial crisis and the hit from the EU referendum in 2017, according to the Resolution Foundation.
Food prices are surging, with the biggest annual increases being for Royal Gala apples, up 14 per cent; free-range eggs, up 12 per cent; onions, up 11 per cent, and milk, up 10 per cent
Hannah Slaughter, senior economist at the think-tank, said: ‘Despite widespread talk of returning wage spirals, Britain is instead experiencing the return of shrinking pay packets.
‘The latest period of falling real wages is likely to have started as far back as last summer, and is likely to continue beyond next summer too.’
Meanwhile, food prices are surging, with the cost of some essentials rising more than 10 per cent last year, according to research by consumer group Which?
Even the nation’s biggest budget chains, Aldi and Lidl, are pushing up prices amid rising wage, transport and other costs.
The biggest annual increases were for Royal Gala apples, up 14 per cent; free-range eggs, up 12 per cent; onions, up 11 per cent, and milk, up 10 per cent.
The Which? research found the cost of a shopping basket of essentials across the year rose 3 per cent on average.
Waitrose was the most expensive retailer at £32.85, a rise of 9.2 per cent. Lidl, where prices increased 5.13 per cent, was the cheapest at £23.29. Prices at Sainsbury’s rose the least at just 0.59 per cent.
Which? retail editor Ele Clark said: ‘No one wants to overpay for basic groceries. Our findings show that while prices are going up, some supermarkets are passing their rising costs on to shoppers more than others.’