Labour market statistics

Date published: 23 February 2021

The labour market statistics were published today by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

Labour market statistics
Labour market statistics

Highest number of confirmed redundancies in a year since 2004

  • 10,640 collective redundancies were proposed in the twelve months to the end of January, more than double the number recorded in the previous twelve months.
  • During January, 190 redundancies were confirmed, taking the annual total to 5,150, the highest since 2004.

NI Claimant Count (Experimental Series) decreases for the eighth consecutive month

  • In January 2021, the seasonally adjusted number of people on the claimant count was 56,700 (6.1% of the workforce), which is a decrease of 1.7% from the previous month’s revised figure and 12% below the recent peak in May. The claimant count is currently at levels previously seen in 2014.

Payrolled employees and employee earnings increased over the month to December

  • The number of employees receiving pay through HMRC PAYE in NI in December 2020 was 742,900, an increase of 0.3% over the month and a decrease of 0.9% over the year. The flash estimate for January 2021 shows an increase of 0.3% on December’s figure to 745,200.
  • Earnings from the HMRC PAYE indicated that NI employees had a median monthly pay of £1,789 in December 2020, an increase of 0.7% over the month and 6.9% over the year. The flash estimate for January 2021 shows a decrease of 0.7% from December’s figure.

The unemployment rate was unchanged over the quarter and increased over the year

  • The latest NI seasonally adjusted unemployment rate (the proportion of economically active people aged 16+ who were unemployed) for the period October-December 2020 was estimated from the Labour Force Survey at 3.6%. The unemployment rate was unchanged over the quarter and increased by 1.2pps over the year. The annual change was statistically significant.
  • The proportion of people aged 16 to 64 in work (the employment rate) decreased over the quarter and the year by 1.1pps and by 3.0pps to 69.4% respectively. The annual change was statistically significant.
  • The economic inactivity rate (the proportion of people aged 16 to 64 who were not working and not seeking or available to work) increased over the quarter by 1.2pps and over the year by 2.1pps to 28.0%. The economic inactivity rate was similar to rates over the last ten years but significantly below peak rates in 2009.
  • Put into the context of the UK, NI had the lowest unemployment rate, the lowest employment rate and the highest economic inactivity rate of all the UK regions.


  • The latest labour market data show that employment levels remain below pre-covid levels, while measures of unemployment remain above pre-covid levels.
  • The HMRC payroll data is the most timely and best single, overall indicator of the labour market. The latest data shows that the number of paid employees increased in December and January after remaining relatively constant between April and November. However, the number of employees in January remains 1.1% below the March 2020 total.
  • Labour Force Survey data for October-December shows the unemployment (3.6%) rate was unchanged, the employment (69.4%) rate decreased, and the economic inactivity (28.0%) rate increased over the quarter. The October-December economic inactivity and unemployment rates were 2.1pps and 1.2pps above their pre-covid levels (October-December 2019) respectively and the employment rate was 3.0pps below. Although the majority of the decrease in employment since last year was due to decreases in the number of self-employed (which fell by 17%), analysis from ONS at a UK level has highlighted that decreases in the number of self-employed was driven, in part, by a movement of people from self-employed to employee status. Decreases in employment were also driven by those aged 16-24 (which fell by 24% over the year).
  • While the number of people receiving unemployment related benefits in January 2021 remains almost double the count in March 2020, the total has been decreasing each month since May and is now 7,600 below the peak May count. The pace of collective redundancy proposals has also slowed in the last two months following a record number of redundancies in the six month period between June and November.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The statistical bulletin and associated tables are available at:
  2. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency wishes to thank the participating households for taking part in the Labour Force Survey.
  3. Today’s release contains labour market indicators from business surveys, household surveys and administrative data sources. Although the broad concepts are similar across sources, differences in reference periods, definitions and methodology exist which impact the interpretation of the statistics. Of particular note is the ‘location’ of the furloughed in the estimates. Those furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) or receiving a grant through the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) are included in the Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates of employment and not within the LFS unemployment estimates. Similarly, employees on the CJRS are included in the HMRC count of employees paid through payroll, and the Quarterly Employment Survey estimate of employee jobs. In contrast, a proportion of those receiving grants through CJRS and SEISS may be accessing Universal Credit unemployment benefits as a ‘top-up’ payment and are included in the experimental Claimant Count.
  4. NISRA suspended all face to face household interviews in the middle of March due COVID-19. From April all LFS interviews were conducted by telephone. This has impacted the composition of the achieved sample. To account for this the weighting methodology has changed and today’s release sees a revision of Labour Force Survey estimates back to January 2020. More detail on the impact of the revisions is available on the NISRA website.
  5. ‘Over the quarter’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period October-December 2020 and the quarter previous to that (i.e. July-September 2020). ‘Over the year’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period October-December 2020 and those of the corresponding quarter one year previously (i.e. October-December 2019). Changes that are found to be significant in a statistical sense (i.e. where the estimated change exceeded the variability expected from a sample survey of this size and was likely to reflect real change) will be specifically highlighted.
  6. Estimates relating to October-December 2020 should be compared with the estimates for July-September as this provides a more robust estimate than comparing with the estimates for September-November 2020 as the October and November data are included in both estimates.
  7. The official measure of unemployment is from the Labour Force Survey. This measure of unemployment relates to people without a job who were available for work and had either looked for work in the last four weeks or were waiting to start a job. This is the International Labour Organisation definition. Labour Force Survey estimates are subject to sampling error. This means that the exact figure is likely to be contained in a range surrounding the estimate quoted. For example, the unemployment rate is likely to fall within 0.9% of the quoted estimate (i.e. between 2.7% and 4.5%).
  8. The claimant count is an administrative data source derived from Jobs and Benefits Offices systems, which records the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits. In March 2018 the NI claimant count measure changed from one based solely on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) to an experimental measure based on JSA claimants and out-of-work Universal Credit (UC) claimants who were claiming principally for the reason of being unemployed. Those claiming unemployment-related benefits (either UC or JSA) may be wholly unemployed and seeking work, or may be employed but with low income and/or low hours, that make them eligible for unemployment-related benefit support. Under UC a broader span of claimants became eligible for unemployment-related benefit than under the previous benefit regime.
  9. The recent changes in claimant count can largely be attributed to the increase in the numbers of people becoming unemployed or having their hours reduced resulting in very low earnings below the administrative earnings threshold. There may be some persons, previously not eligible for UC due to partner earnings, now eligible as a result of work allowance increases who would now be included within the count.  We are not able to identify the extent to which each group has contributed to the increase in claimant count.
  10. Redundancies are provided by companies under the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (Amended 8 October 2006) whereby they are legally required to notify the Department of impending redundancies of 20 or more employees. Companies who propose fewer than 20 redundancies are not required to notify the Department, therefore the figures provided are likely to be an underestimate of total job losses, however, it is not possible to quantify the extent of the shortfall.
  11. To prevent the potential identification of individual businesses, redundancy totals relating to fewer than 3 businesses are not disclosed. The Statistical Disclosure Control Policy is available on the NISRA website.
  12. HMRC’s Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information (RTI) system is an administrative data source. The PAYE RTI system is the system employers use to take Income Tax and National Insurance contributions before they pay wages to employees. These data relate to employees paid by employers only, and do not include self-employment income.
  13. Estimates of the number of paid employees and employee earnings from PAYE are classed as experimental statistics as they are still in their development phase. As a result the data are subject to revisions. The HMRC PAYE covers the whole population rather than a sample of employees or companies. Data are based on where employees live and not the location of their place of work within the UK. Data are seasonally adjusted but not adjusted for inflation.
  14. The Labour Market Report will be of interest to policy makers, public bodies, the business community, banks, economic commentators, academics and the general public with an interest in the local economy.
  15. The next Labour Market Report will be published on the NISRA website on 23rd March 2021.
  16. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office on
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Responsible statistician:

Sarah Fyffe,

Economic & Labour Market Statistics Branch (ELMS), or Tel: 028 905 29449.

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