The job market is booming – but not everyone is taking advantage of it

Let’s start with a puzzle. The UK job market is booming, with just under 29.5 million people on payrolls in January, the highest ever. The number of job vacancies is also at an all-time record, with 1.3 million unfilled posts. But self-employment is down. Indeed, compared with two years ago, the fall in self-employment has more than offset the rise in salaried employment, so that the total number of people in work is not quite back to its pre-pandemic peak.

Here’s another puzzle. The ranks of older workers – people over the age of 65 – had been rising steadily until the pandemic struck. Then, unsurprisingly, it fell sharply, and while it has recovered somewhat, it is still well below its pre-pandemic level. The latest data from the ONS shows that two years ago, 11.7 per cent of over-65s were in work – more than double the proportion 20 years ago. But now it is only 10.7 per cent.

So, two groups of people that you might expect would be sucked into work by this wall of demand for labour – the self-employed and the elderly – have not returned, or at least not in the numbers you might hope. It’s even more surprising when you consider that prior to the pandemic, numbers of both were rising fast. What’s up?


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