Fears that a Brexit vote would trigger widespread job losses were not realised last month, with the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance unexpectedly falling. The claimant count fell by 8,600 to 763,600 in July, compared with expectations of a rise of 9,500, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It was the first monthly fall since February 2016.
The unemployment rate in the three months to the end of June was unchanged at 4.9%. Average weekly earnings excluding bonuses rose 2.3% over the same period, up from 2.2%. The number of people unemployed, defined as those not in work but seeking and available for employment, was 1.64 million for the three-month period, the lowest since March to May 2008.
There were 31.75 million people in work over the three-month period, 172,000 more than for January to March 2016 and 606,000 more than for a year earlier.
Part of the rise was attributed to non-UK EU nationals, and especially those from eastern Europe. The number of migrant workers from Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia topped 1 million for the first time. A record 1,007,000 migrant workers came from these countries in the second quarter of the year, up 44,000 on the previous quarter.
The number of non-UK nationals in employment increased 110,000 to 3.45 million in the second quarter, compared with a rise of just 58,000 in the number of UK nationals in work to 28.2 million. The employment rate, which measures the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work, was 74.5%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.
Alan Clarke, an economist at Scotia Bank, said concerns about the Brexit vote were not supported by the data. He said: “Ahead of the referendum, speculation was that the economy would grind to a halt, hiring would stall, and investment plans would be put on ice. The first two haven’t happened; we will find out next week whether the third came good.
“But this does provide a glimmer of hope that if fears of the pre-Brexit jitters proved unfounded. Maybe the post-referendum doom and gloom may equally prove to have been overcooked.”