UK Unemployment Rate Rises Again but Wage Hike Puts Bank of England on Edge

London: England’s jobless rate increased for a second month and there were other signs in data on Tuesday that some of the inflationary intensity in the labor market is cooling as the economy stumbles, including an increase in older people looking for work.

But the Bank of England (BoE) – which is set to raise interest rates for a ninth consecutive meeting on Thursday – was likely to record the strongest increase in basic pay, not including the period around the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the figures were published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), sterling briefly rose against the US dollar and the euro before falling back. The unemployment rate increased to 3.7% in the three months to October from 3.6% in the three months to September. Vacancies in the September-to-November period fell on an annual basis for the first time since early 2021 when Britain was under lockdown.

But regular pay rose by a stronger-than-expected 6.1% in the August-to-October period, the biggest gain since records began in 2001, excluding jumps during the COVID-19 pandemic which were distorted by lockdowns and government support measures. Total pay including bonuses also increased by an annual 6.1%, the ONS said.

Martin Beck, an economist with forecasters EY Item Club, said 6.2% growth in service sector wages would catch the BoE’s attention but it would probably still slow the pace of its rate hikes to 50 basis points (bps) from November’s 75 bps increase. The central bank is weighing up signs that Britain’s economy has already gone into a probably long recession with continued inflation problems coming from the labor market.

“The prospect of high services sector pay growth contributing to sticky inflation is more likely to make it harder for the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to cut interest rates next year,” Beck said.

Both measures of pay continued to lag behind inflation – which topped 11% in October – representing a further cut to spending power for households. Samuel Tombs, an economist with Pantheon Macroeconomics, said he expected pay growth to slow as the weakening economy takes its toll on the jobs markets.

“As a result, we continue to think that enough hard evidence of rising unemployment and slowing wage growth will accumulate by the MPC’s meeting in mid-March for it to stop hiking Bank Rate, having already increased it to about 4%,” he said.

The BoE was likely to take some comfort from other parts of Tuesday’s labor market report.

It fears that the recent shrinking of the pool of workers in the labor market will add to inflation pressure in the economy. The ONS said the economic inactivity rate – or the share of people not in work and not looking for it – fell to 21.5% in the three months to October, down 0.2 percentage points from the previous three-month period. The decline was mostly driven by older people who considered themselves retired but were now looking for work.

“This tallies with other data which suggest more people in their 50s are thinking of going back to work, at a time when the cost of living is rising rapidly,” ONS statistician Sam Beckett said in a statement.

However, the inactivity rate was 1.3% higher than it was before the pandemic.

By Archana

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