U.K. unemployment rate falls to 42-year low but wages subdued

LONDON — Household incomes in Britain are being squeezed even though unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since the mid-1970s, official figures showed Wednesday, conflicting developments that accentuate the uncertainties policymakers are grappling with as the country’s exit from the European Union looms nearer.

In its monthly update on the labour market, the Office for National Statistics said the unemployment rate between March and May fell to 4.5 per cent, down 0.2 percentage point from the previous three-month period. The rate is now at its lowest level since 1975.

The number of people out of work declined by 64,000 during the quarter to 1.49 million, and the employment rate, the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work, was 74.9 per cent, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

The positive news contrasts with other figures showing the economy slowing down. In the first quarter of the year, the British economy grew by a quarterly rate of 0.2 per cent, the lowest of all the Group of Seven leading industrial economies.

Employment figures often lag developments in the wider economy so the recent slowdown may not be felt for some months. The impact could be accentuated if Britain’s Brexit talks, which began in earnest last month, fail to make much headway in the coming months.

“Historically unemployment is a ‘lazy indicator,’” said Ben Knight, professor at the Warwick Business School. “I would expect unemployment to rise if the Brexit effect on GDP growth turns out to be significantly negative, but it could be the end of the year before we can discern any effect of the Brexit vote.”

Worries that Britain could crash out of the EU in March 2019 with no trade deal with its former partners is, according to most economists, the biggest risk facing the country, a worst-case scenario that could lead to many firms ditching the country for continental Europe. In such a situation, Britain would operate under World Trade Organization rules, which would see tariffs slapped on many of the country’s exports.

Credit ratings agency Moody’s warned Wednesday that Britain’s growth prospects could be materially weaker if no deal for privileged trade access to the European single market is agreed on. Rival Standard & Poor’s delivered a similarly bleak appraisal Tuesday.

“It remains unclear whether the U.K. government can eventually deliver a reasonably good outcome,” said Kathrin Muehlbronner, a Moody’s senior vice-president. “The likelihood of an abrupt — and damaging — exit with no agreement and reversion to WTO trading rules has increased compared to our expectation directly after the referendum, with the government so far pursuing objectives that imply a ‘hard’ exit.”

Concern over the impact of Brexit is the main reason why the Bank of England cut its main interest rate last August to a record low of 0.25 per cent.

However, some members of the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee think rates should go up now as inflation is running above the 2 per cent target, at 2.9 per cent, and unemployment is falling. The Federal Reserve in the U.S. has similarly voiced concern about rising inflation and a tight labour market, and it has been steadily raising interest rates.

Other Bank of England rate-setters, however, point to the continued weakness of wage growth as a source of concern. Wednesday’s figures showed average weekly earnings for employees increased by 1.8 per cent including bonuses, and by 2.0 per cent excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier. Both are below inflation, meaning that living standards are falling, a development that’s likely to weigh on spending in the months to come as it has done over the previous few.

Samuel Tombs, chief U.K. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the recent fall in consumer confidence will also likely make workers even less willing to change roles, decreasing the pressure on employers to offer higher salaries.

“So despite low unemployment, we continue to expect wage growth to remain in the low 2’s, placing little pressure on the MPC to hike rates,” he said.

Just Posted

At mid-mandate and with extra cash, Liberals to chart fiscal course toward 2019

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government, right at the midpoint of its mandate,… Continue reading

Man killed in collision near Markerville

A 55-year-old man is dead after a collision near Markerville Friday night.… Continue reading

La Loche school shooter carried out plan with ‘stark efficiency:’ Crown

MEADOW LAKE, Sask. — A Saskatchewan judge is weighing whether a teenager… Continue reading

Castor triple-murder trial resumes on Monday

Trial was delayed two weeks for two men accused of killing Castor-area family

Red Deer Royals are sending 1,000 letters to Trudeau

The band must pay for the last 20 per cent of fieldhouse costs

WATCH: A magical Harry Potter weekend in downtown Red Deer

Wizards, witches and muggles are flocking to downtown Red Deer to celebrate… Continue reading

B.C. ice rink where 3 people died remains closed due to safety concerns

FERNIE, B.C. — Residents who were forced from their homes because of… Continue reading

Trudeau condemns appointment of Mugabe as WHO ambassador

EDMONTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the appointment of Zimbabwe President… Continue reading

Friday Oct. 21: Winning Lotto Numbers

Friday, October 20, 2017 LOTTO MAX Winning Numbers 1 4 12 27… Continue reading

New northbound Hwy 2 lanes at Gaetz Avenue to open this Sunday

Drivers heading north through Red Deer on Hwy 2 will have a… Continue reading

Sockey Night at Saturday’s Rebels game

United Way Central Alberta is determined to provide warm feet for all… Continue reading

Canadian planet hunter seeking alien life

‘The shifting line of what is crazy’ says Toronto-born astrophysicist

All three victims identified in Fernie arena ammonia leak

Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith were from Fernie and Jason Podloski from Turner Valley, Alta

4 B.C. prisons install body scanners to combat drug smuggling

The scanners are aimed to combat the smuggling of contraband including weapons and drugs

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month