Labour market February 2024 update

Published 20/02/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

With the cost of living and other economic factors in sharp focus, information on employment is invaluable. This article summarises a range of data published on the labour market in Wales.

What do the latest figures show?

The key trends in the labour market are:

  • The number of payrolled employees in Wales is still above the pre-pandemic level and has continued to increase in recent months to 1.32 million in January 2024.
  • In December 2023, the average weekly earnings were 5.8% higher than for December 2022 whereas the Consumer Price Index inflation was at 4.0% in November 2023 to January 2024.
  • The number of job vacancies in the UK in November 2023 to January 2024 was 932,000, a decrease of 26,000 from the previous quarter (August to October 2023).
  • CPI inflation held at 4.0% in January, defying expectations of an increase.

Number of payrolled employees

ONS has been working with HMRC to produce timely estimates of employees being paid through the pay as you earn (PAYE) system. The number of payrolled employees in Wales is above the pre-pandemic and has continued to increase in recent months.

PAYE seasonally adjusted data; five years to January 2024

Graph showing a large dip in payrolled employees during the period March 2020 to March 2021 to under 1.23 million. This was followed by an increase to 1.32 million by January 2024.


Source: ONS PAYE – seasonally adjusted

Average weekly earnings

Year-on-year increases in average weekly earnings across the UK are above the rate of inflation. Earnings data for Wales is published on an annual basis in the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. However the inflation rate is not available at a Wales level.

Year-on-year change in UK average weekly earnings and inflation

Graph showing UK inflation exceeding average weekly earnings (3-month average) in 2022-23. In December 2023, the average weekly earnings were 5.8% higher than for December 2022 whereas the Consumer Price Index inflation was at 4.0% in November 2023 to January 2024.


Source: Earnings and working hours and inflation and price indices, ONS


At a UK level ONS publishes an estimate of the number of job vacancies for the preceding three months. These estimates are based on the Vacancy Survey where ONS surveys employers across all sectors of the economy. From November 2023 to January 2024 there were a reported 932,000 job vacancies in the UK, a decrease of 26,000 from August to October 2023. Vacancy numbers fell on the quarter for the 19th consecutive period in November 2023 to January 2024, down by 2.7% since August to October 2023 with vacancies falling in 12 of the 18 industry sectors.

The Vacancy Survey data is not available at a Wales level, however ONS publishes experimental indices of online job adverts. This includes information on several million job advert entries each month from across the UK, broken down by job category and UK countries. The post-pandemic surge in job vacancies peaked in February 2022 and has decreased overall since.

Index of estimated number of deduplicated online job adverts (Feb 2020 = 100)

Graph showing that the index decreased from 100 in February 2020 to 34 in May 2020. The index increased to 134 by February 2022 and decreased to 85 by February 2024.


Source: Online job advert estimates - Office for National Statistics (

Benefits claimants

As more people move from legacy benefits to Universal Credit, the claimant count measure of unemployment has changed. The experimental headline data published by the ONS covers 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.

The claimant count more than doubled at the start of the pandemic. The numbers steadily decreased from August 2020 to July 2022. Since July 2022 the claimant count has stayed between 60,000 - 64,000 with the claimant count in January 2024 standing 6% above pre-pandemic levels.

Claimant count for Wales; four years to January 2024

The claimant count increased from 58,130 in March 2020 to 120,097 in August 2020. It then decreased to 61,773 in January 2024.


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.

Labour Force Survey

ONS is working on transforming the LFS to improve response rates and quality of estimates by changing the design of the survey, increasing the sample size and using new data collection methods. Figures from the transformed LFS will be published next spring. A blog by the Welsh Government Chief Statistician highlights concerns with using current LFS figures:

In the meantime however, figures from the LFS remain volatile for Wales, providing an uncertain view of the labour market when viewed in isolation. It is therefore important to take account of information from a range of sources. The LFS represents the primary data source, but in advance of the transformed version next spring, it is recommended that greater consideration should be given to the trends exhibited by other sources.

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