Labour Market Statistics

Date published: 20 April 2021

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

Labour market statistics
Labour market statistics

Highest number of annual confirmed redundancies since 2001

  • 10,090 collective redundancies were proposed in the twelve months to the end of March, more than double the number recorded in the previous twelve months (4,800). 170 redundancies were proposed in the three month period January – March 2021.
  • During March 250 redundancies were confirmed, taking the annual total to 5,780, the highest since 2001.

NI Claimant Count (Experimental Series) almost double one year ago

  • In March 2021, the seasonally adjusted number of people on the claimant count was 58,100 (5.9% of the workforce), which is a decrease of 100 (0.2%) from the previous month’s revised figure and 8.9% below the recent peak in May. The claimant count remains almost double the number recorded in March 2020 and is similar to levels previously seen in 2014.

Payrolled employees and employee earnings both increased over the month to February

  • The number of employees receiving pay through HMRC PAYE in NI in February 2021 was 744,300, an increase of 0.2% over the month and a decrease of 1.2% over the year. The flash estimate for March 2021 shows a marginal decrease of less than 0.1% on February’s figure to 744,100.
  • Earnings from the HMRC PAYE indicated that NI employees had a median monthly pay of £1,780 in February 2021. This was an increase of 0.1% over the month and 4.7% over the year. The flash estimate for March 2021 shows a further increase of 0.7% from February’s figure to £1,792.

The unemployment rate increased over the quarter and over the year

  • The latest NI seasonally adjusted unemployment rate (the proportion of economically active people aged 16+ who were unemployed) for the period December-February 2021 was estimated from the Labour Force Survey at 3.7%. The unemployment rate increased by 0.5 percentage points (pps) over the quarter and by 1.2pps over the year. The annual change was statistically significant and is likely to reflect real change.
  • The proportion of people aged 16 to 64 in work (the employment rate) decreased over the quarter and the year by 1.6pps and by 3.5pps respectively to 69.0%. The annual change was statistically significant and is likely to reflect real change.
  • 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 1.3pps and over the year by 2.7pps to 28.3%. The annual change was statistically significant and is likely to reflect real change.
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • The HMRC payroll data is the most timely and best single, overall indicator of the labour market. The latest data shows that, after remaining relatively constant between April and November 2020, the number of paid employees increased for three consecutive months to February and decreased marginally in March 2021. Despite the recent increases, the flash estimate for March 2021 remains 1.3% below the total one year earlier.
  • Statistically significant changes were seen in the three headline LFS indicators over the year. The employment rate (69.0%) is now 3.5 percentage points below the rate this time last year, and unemployment and economic inactivity rates are now 1.2 percentage points and 2.7 percentage points above. Although all age groups saw a fall in employment over the year, 16-24 year olds accounted for approximately two-thirds of the total decrease in employment of those aged 16-64 years.
  • The pace of collective redundancy proposals has slowed in 2021, with 170 proposed in the three months January – March 2021. This follows record levels in June and July, and historically high levels through to December. Provisional HMRC data for February shows 106,500 employments (jobs meeting the scheme eligibility criteria) were receiving support under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme at 28 February. January and February daily furlough counts averaged 115,000 and were below levels of approximately 139,000 recorded at the start of July 2020 (the first month for which daily counts are available). 

Notes to editors: 

  1. The statistical bulletin and associated tables are available on the NISRA website.
  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 updated labour market indicators from 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 December-February 2021 and the quarter previous to that (i.e. September-November 2020). ‘Over the year’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period December-February 2021 and those of the corresponding quarter one year previously (i.e. December-February 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 December-February 2021 should be compared with the estimates for September-November 2020. This provides a more robust estimate than comparing with the estimates for November-January 2020, as the December and January data are included within 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 1.0% of the quoted estimate (i.e. between 2.7% and 4.7%).
  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. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. HMRC’s statistics on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme were published on 25 March 2021 and are available on the GOV.UK website. The next publication of these statistics is 6 May 2021.
  14. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ‘Employments’ are defined according to the scheme eligibility criteria and is a jobs-based measure. An individual employed by more than one employer is counted once for each employment furloughed. Up to date information on the scheme eligibility criteria is available on the GOV.UK website.
  15. 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.
  16. The next Labour Market Report will be published on the NISRA website on 18th May 2021.
  17. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at:
  18. 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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Responsible statistician:
Brian Grogan,
Economic & Labour Market Statistics Branch (ELMS), or Tel: 028 905 29311.

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