Labour market statistics

Date published: 23 March 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 annual confirmed redundancies since 2001

  • 10,650 collective redundancies were proposed in the twelve months to the end of February, more than double the number recorded in the previous twelve months (4,390).
  • During February, 420 redundancies were confirmed, taking the annual total to 5,770, the highest since 2001.

NI Claimant Count (Experimental Series) increased for the first time since May

  • In February 2021, the seasonally adjusted number of people on the claimant count was 58,900 (6.3% of the workforce), which is an increase of 2,200 (3.9%) from the previous month’s revised figure but 8.3% below the recent peak in May. The claimant count remains around double the number recorded in March 2020 and is similar to levels previously seen in 2014.

Payrolled employees increased and employee earnings decreased over the month

  • The number of employees receiving pay through HMRC PAYE in NI in January 2021 was 744,300, an increase of 0.2% over the month and a decrease of 0.9% over the year. The flash estimate for Febuary 2021 shows an increase of 0.2% on January’s figure to 746,100.
  • Earnings from the HMRC PAYE indicated that NI employees had a median monthly pay of £1,775 in January 2021. This was a decrease of 0.7% over the month, however, earnings were 4.8% higher than those recorded in January 2020. The flash estimate for February 2021 shows a decrease of 0.5% from January’s figure.

Largest annual decrease in employment rate since 2009

  • The latest NI seasonally adjusted unemployment rate (the proportion of economically active people aged 16+ who were unemployed) for the period November-January 2021 was estimated from the Labour Force Survey at 3.7%. The unemployment rate decreased by 0.1 percentage points (pps) over the quarter and increased by 1.3pps 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 1.3pps and by 3.0pps to 69.3% respectively. The annual change was statistically significant and the largest annual decrease since 2009.
  • 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 1.5pps and over the year by 2.1pps to 28.0%. The economic inactivity rate was similar to rates over the last ten years and significantly below peak rates in 2009.
  • Put into the context of the UK, NI had the second lowest unemployment rate, the lowest employment rate and the highest economic inactivity rate of all the UK regions.

Employee jobs decreased for the third consecutive quarter

  • Estimates from the Quarterly Employment Survey December 2020 indicate that employee jobs decreased over both the quarter (-0.3% or -2,400 jobs) and the year (-1.2% or -9,070 jobs) to 770,900 jobs. Neither the quarterly nor the annual changes in employee jobs were found to be statistically significant.
  • December 2020 marked the third consecutive quarter of decline in employee jobs, and the second consecutive annual decline since September 2012.
  • The annualised growth rate of total employee jobs has fallen every quarter between March 2018 (2.3%) and December 2020 (-0.2%). December 2020 marked the first negative annualised growth rate since December 2012.
  • Quarterly decreases in employee jobs were seen within the services, construction and other industries sectors to December 2020. Manufacturing was the only broad industry sector to report an increase over the quarter (+0.9% or +800 jobs), following five previous consecutive quarters of decline.
  • Both the services (-1.6% or -9,870 jobs) and manufacturing (-1.0% or -830 jobs) sectors experienced decreases in employee jobs over the year.
  • Private sector jobs continued to decrease over the quarter (-0.7% or -3,650 jobs) and the year (-1.7% or -9,580 jobs) to 558,400 jobs. Public sector jobs increased marginally over both the quarter (+0.3% or +580 jobs) and the year (+0.3% or +560 jobs) to 212,210 jobs in December 2020.
  • The survey date for QES for quarter 4 was 1st December 2020, and those furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are included in employee jobs estimates.


  • One year on since the COVID-19 pandemic began the latest labour market data show that employment levels (which include furloughed jobs) remain below pre-covid levels, while measures of unemployment remain above pre-covid levels. Although some recovery has been seen since the second quarter of the year, in terms of hours worked, number of unemployment related benefit claimants and decrease in collective redundancy proposals, the scale of the recovery is less than the size of the initial shift in indicators.
  • 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 has increased in the most recent three months after remaining relatively constant between April and November. However, the number of employees in February remains 1.0% below the March 2020 total.
  • Businesses reported a decrease in the number of employee jobs over the quarter to December 2020, the third consecutive quarter of decline in employee jobs. The December 2020 quarterly decrease (-2,400 jobs) was however smaller than the decreases seen in June 2020 (-3,250 jobs) and September 2020 (-4,150 jobs). The number of employees jobs in December 2020 are 1.2% (-9,070 jobs) below the December 2019 total.
  • The pace of collective redundancy proposals from businesses has slowed in the most recent three months following a record number of redundancies in the six-month period between June and November. The number of confirmed redundancies between November and February however remain high at approximately 400 per month as the redundancy proposals from earlier in the year take effect.
  • Labour Force Survey data for November-January shows the unemployment (3.7%) rate and the employment (69.3%) rate decreased, and the economic inactivity (28.0%) rate increased over the quarter. The November-January economic inactivity and unemployment rates were 2.1pps and 1.3pps respectively above their pre-covid levels (November-January 2020), and the employment rate was 3.0pps below. Decreases in employment were driven by those aged 16-24 (which fell by 24% over the year) while economic inactivity increased for this age group by 26%. 

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. Over the quarter’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period November-January 2021 and the quarter previous to that (i.e. August-October 2020). ‘Over the year’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period November-January 2021 and those of the corresponding quarter one year previously (i.e. November-January 2020). 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.
  5. Estimates relating to November-January 2021 should be compared with the estimates for August-October as this provides a more robust estimate than comparing with the estimates for October-December 2020 as the November and December data are included in both estimates.
  6. 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 2.8% and 4.6%).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Employee jobs figures are taken from the Quarterly Employment Survey; a survey of public sector organisations and private sector firms. Headline totals for employee jobs are seasonally adjusted. Estimates for industry sub-sections at 2 digit SIC level are not adjusted for seasonality. The QES survey date was 1st December 2020. Those who are furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) are included in employee jobs estimates.
  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 here:
  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 20th April 2021.
  16. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at:
  17. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.
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  19. Feedback is welcomed and should be addressed to: Responsible statistician: Brian Grogan, Economic & Labour Market Statistics Branch (ELMS), or Tel: 028 905 29311.

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