Coronavirus: labour market September update

Published 15/09/2020   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

15 September 2020

Have official statistics started to reflect the impact of coronavirus on the labour market?

Each month the Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes estimates of employment and unemployment rates. These estimates are based on information collected by the Labour Force Survey (LFS) for the preceding three-month period. The time lag to these figures means that the latest labour market release published on 15 September 2020 provides information from May 2020 to July 2020, the period after the implementation of coronavirus social distancing measures. The September LFS figures do not reflect the number of people who have been placed on furlough due to coronavirus.

The latest HMRC statistics on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme show 400,800 employments in Wales have been furloughed up to 31 July 2020. This represents a take up rate of 31%. In terms of constituencies, Cardiff North (25%) has the lowest take up rate and Dwyfor Meirionnydd (41%) the highest take up rate in Wales.

Are there other data we can use to see the impact of coronavirus on the labour market in Wales?

Claimant count figures are published monthly and are more timely. However, people in work can also be eligible for Universal Credit and included in the claimant count. ONS states;

As part of the response to the pandemic, the rules about who can claim Universal Credit have changed, meaning an increased proportion of those claiming may actually still be in some kind of work. Because of these reasons, the change in the claimant count almost certainly ends up overstating any underlying change in unemployment.

ONS has also been working with HMRC to produce estimates of employees being paid through the PAYE system. The PAYE seasonally adjusted data from March to August showed a reduction of 695,000 people in the UK being paid through this system. These data are not yet available at a Wales level.

Claimant count – seasonally adjusted

ONS publishes an experimental series counting the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance plus those who claim Universal Credit and are required to seek work and be available for work. This replaces the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance as the headline indicator of the number of people claiming benefits principally for the reason of being unemployed. The latest data for August 2020 show that the Wales claimant count went up from 58,576 in March 2020 to 121,795 in August 2020, an increase from 120,014 in July 2020.

Claimant count for Wales; August 2018 to August 2020

graph showing claimant count figures from August 2018 to August 2020

Source, NOMIS, ONS Claimant Count – seasonally adjusted
Notes: From May 2013 onwards these figures are considered Experimental Statistics. Under Universal Credit a broader span of claimants are required to look for work than under Jobseeker's Allowance. As Universal Credit Full Service is rolled out in particular areas, the number of people recorded as being on the Claimant Count is likely to rise. Rates for regions and countries from 2018 onwards are calculated using the mid-2018 resident population aged 16-64.

What do the latest Labour Force Survey figures show?

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is a quarterly household survey of around 80,000 adults. The survey asks a range of questions on employment and the labour market. As people are still furloughed this doesn’t reflect the full impact of coronavirus on the labour market in Wales.

For May 2020 to July 2020 the unemployment rate for people aged 16+ in Wales was 3.1%, compared to 3.0% in the previous quarter (February 2020 to April 2020). This is an increase of 1,000 people from the previous quarter up to 47,000.

headline statistics for employment, unemployment and economic inactivity

Source: ONS, Regional labour market: Headline indicators for Wales

The unemployment rate in Wales (3.1%) is lower than England (4.1%) and Scotland (4.6%), and higher than Northern Ireland (2.9%).

Percentage of people aged 16+ who are unemployed, UK nations; May 2015 - July 2015 to May 2020 - July 2020

line graph of unemployment rates for Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland


Data from the LFS are available showing the unemployment rate by sex and age for 12 months to March 2020. The latest data show unemployment rates decrease with age for both males and females. In the 16-24 and 50-64 age groups males have higher unemployment rates than females.

Unemployment rate by age and sex in Wales; 12 months to March 2020

unemployment rates by age and sex


Unemployment data are also available by parliamentary constituency. The interactive map below shows for the 12 months to March 2020 Neath had the highest rate (7.0%) and Montgomeryshire the lowest rate (2.0%).



infographic 4 = interactive map of unemployment rates by constituency


The number of unemployed people in the UK includes people who meet the definition of unemployment specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO defines unemployed people as being:

  • without a job, have been actively seeking work in the past four weeks and are available to start work in the next two weeks
  • out of work, have found a job and are waiting to start it in the next two weeks

Employment measures the number of people aged 16 years and over in paid work. The headline measure of employment for the UK is the employment rate for those aged from 16 to 64 years.

The headline measure of inactivity for the UK is the rate of those aged from 16 to 64 without a job who have not sought work in the last four weeks and/or are not available to start work in the next two weeks.


Article by Joe Wilkes and Helen Jones, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament

We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.

You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.