The employment rate reached a record high at the start of the year, but it is worth asking who still wants more work?


1.79 million working age people in the UK were unemployed in the first quarter of 2015. Unemployment though can be a narrow way of looking at people who want work – a person is only counted as unemployed if they have actively sought work in the last four weeks and is available to start in the next two weeks. Providing someone meets this criteria they are counted as unemployed, including a third of unemployed 16-24 year olds who are in full-time education.

Economically inactive

Those not in employment and not counted as unemployed are classed economically inactive. 2.30 million economically inactive 16-64 year olds wanted a job in Q1 2015 – more than the number of unemployed. The majority of economically inactive people who wanted a job were either long-term sick (29%), looking after the family/home (28%) or students (22%). Nevertheless, around three quarters of economically inactive people do not want a job and those who do are either not looking for work or are unable to start in the next two weeks.


What about those who are already in work and would like more work? One example of people who may be in this group are those working part-time because they could not find a full-time job. Underemployment is a broader concept we can use; those who want to work more at the same rate of pay. 2.89 million 16-64 year olds were underemployed in Q1 2015, more than both the number unemployed and the number economically inactive who wanted a job. However there are also those who would like to work less: 2.90 million 16-64 year olds were overemployed, they wanted to work fewer hours with less pay.

Wanting better work

Even looking at these measures together only gives a partial picture as there are others who may not want more hours but may still want “better” work. 589,000 people in Q1 2015 were temporary employees because they could not find a full-time job, some of whom may also be underemployed. A  2011 OECD Report found that, after Spain, the UK had the most over-qualified workforce in the OECD, which means many people’s skills are being underutilised. Employment status of 16-64 year olds

Author: James Mirza-Davies

Sources: ONS, Labour Force Survey microdata, and ONS Labour Market Statistics, May 2015 Notes: For comparability the majority of the figures in this post refer to 16-64 year olds on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. This may differ from the usual headline seasonally adjusted data.