Labour market statistics

Date published: 18 January 2022

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

Further Education Outcomes Report
Further Education Outcomes Report

Key points

Payrolled employees now higher than pre-COVID for the sixth consecutive month

  • The number of employees receiving pay through HMRC PAYE in NI in December 2021 was 773,400, an increase of 0.6 per cent over the month and 5.0 per cent over the year. This is the highest on record and the sixth consecutive month that employee numbers have been above pre-COVID levels.
  • Earnings from the HMRC PAYE indicated that NI employees had a median monthly pay of £1,880 in December 2021, an increase of £20 (1.1 per cent) over the month and an increase of £102 (5.7 per cent) over the year.

NI Claimant Count (Experimental Series) decreased for the tenth consecutive month

  • In December 2021, the seasonally adjusted number of people on the claimant count was 42,600 (4.3 per cent of the workforce), a decrease of 1,300 (2.9 per cent) from the previous month’s revised figure. The December claimant count is 33 per cent below the recent peak in May 2020, and 40 per cent higher than the pre-pandemic count in March 2020.

Lowest annual total of proposed redundancies since 2011

  • Over the 2021 calendar-year, 1,940 redundancies were proposed, 82 per cent less than in the previous 12 months.
  • NISRA, acting on behalf of the Department for the Economy, received confirmation that 200 redundancies occurred in December 2021. At 2,840, the annual total was 44 per cent less than in the previous year (5,030).

Labour Force Survey headline measures

  • The latest NI seasonally adjusted unemployment rate (the proportion of economically active people aged 16+ who were unemployed) for the period September-November 2021 was estimated from the Labour Force Survey at 3.1 per cent. The unemployment rate decreased by 1.0 percentage points (pps) over the quarter and increased by 0.1pps over the year.  The quarterly 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 by 1.0pps and over the year by 1.1pps to 70.0 per cent. Neither the quarterly nor annual changes were 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 1.8pps and over the year by 1.1pps to 27.6 per cent. The quarterly change was statistically significant and is likely to reflect real change.
  • The total number of weekly hours worked in NI was estimated at 28.3million, an increase of 4.3 per cent on the previous quarter and an increase of 2.8 per cent on the equivalent period last year.


  • The number of payrolled employees and level of payroll earnings continue to be above the pre-pandemic levels. Total employment (which includes self-employed) and hours worked have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels and similarly claimant count, unemployment and economic inactivity all remain above.
  • The latest HMRC payroll data was the highest level on record in December and 2.6 per cent above those recorded in March 2020 pre-COVID. 
  • The number of proposed and confirmed redundancies remained low in recent months. The total number of proposed collective redundancies (1,940) during 2021 is the lowest rolling twelve-month total since November 2011, while there was a 44 per cent decrease in confirmed redundancies in 2021 when compared to the previous year.
  • The Labour Force Survey shows statistically significant quarterly changes in both the unemployment and economic inactivity rates to September-November 2021, where the unemployment rate decreased (-1.0pps) to 3.1 per cent and the economic inactivity rate increased (+1.8pps) to 27.6 per cent. Compared to the pre-pandemic levels in December-February 2020, the total number of hours worked in September-November 2021 was 1.5 per cent below, whilst the employment rate was 2.4pps below. Both the unemployment and economic inactivity rates remain above the pre-pandemic position (0.6pps and 2.0pps above, respectively).

Notes to editors: 

  1. The statistical report and associated tables are available at:            Labour Market Overview
  2. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency wishes to thank the participating households and businesses for taking part in the Labour Force Survey and Quarterly Employment 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 who were 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. The CJRS ended on 30 September 2021, which was also the last date for making a SEISS claim.
  4. ‘Over the quarter’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period September-November 2021 and the quarter preceding that (ie June-August 2021).  ‘Over the year’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period September-November 2021 and those of the corresponding quarter one year previously (ie September-November 2020). Changes that are found to be significant in a statistical sense (ie 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 September-November 2021 should be compared with the estimates for June-August 2021. This provides a more robust estimate than comparing with the estimates for August-October 2021, as the September and October 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 0.7pps of the quoted estimate (ie between 2.4 per cent and 3.8 per cent).
  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. All other things being equal we would expect more redundancies in sectors dominated by large businesses as they are the businesses that meet the 20 or more collective redundancy criteria.
  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 at: Redundancies background information. Where the number of businesses does not meet the threshold for release (as detailed in the Statistical Disclosure Control Policy), individual monthly totals are not published.
  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 uses 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. A comparison of earnings statistics from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) and HMRC Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information (RTI) is available on the NISRA website at: Comparison of ASHE and PAYE RTI
  13. HMRC’s statistics on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme were published on 16 December 2021 and are available at: Coronavirus- job retention scheme statistics 16 December 2021. This was the final edition of these statistics.
  14. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ‘Employments’ are defined according to the scheme eligibility criteria and this is a jobs-based measure. An individual employed by more than one employer is counted once for each employment furloughed.   
  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 Tuesday 15 February 2022.
  17. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at: To keep up to date with news from the Department you can follow us on the following social media channels:
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  19. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at .

  20. 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.

  21. Feedback is welcomed and should be addressed to:

Responsible statistician:

Mark McFetridge,

Economic and Labour Market Statistics (ELMS), or Tel: 028 902 55172.

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