ONS stats "bittersweet" for women

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High levels of employment are being driven by women, but this may be because they're having to work longer

The Office for National Statistics' latest employment figures reflect a “bittersweet” story for women in work, according to Kate Smith, head of pensions at Aegon.

The figures for September show the highest number of people in work since records began, at 75.3%. There were 32.14 million people in work – 181,000 more than for February to April 2017 and 379,000 more than a year ago.

Smith said that the data reflects a change in the makeup of the working population. “Today’s figures show that more people than ever are in work and this is largely being driven by the number of women in employment,” she said. “Just over 70% of women aged between 16 and 64 are now in work; the highest ever since comparable records began in 1971.”

However, Smith warned this reflects necessity not choice for many women. “On the surface this looks like fantastic news as more women are not only working but in full-time jobs,” she said. “But for some it’s bittersweet. More women are now having to work longer to fill the income gap due to increases in the state pension age, as it rises to age 65 by late 2018."

Smith added, however, the potential benefits of longer working. “Staying in the workplace longer has both societal and financial advantages," she said. "Not only does it mean people receive a salary, but because of auto-enrolment they can also continue to save in a pension and benefit from their employer’s contributions.”

HR director at Totaljobs, David Clift highlighted the positive side of the job market statistics. “To illustrate the strong performance of the UK job market and to put these figures into context: the last time the UK’s unemployment rate was this low was 1975, the year when the British public voted overwhelmingly to remain in what was then called the European Economic Community,” he said. “Times have certainly changed since.

“Moving forward we can continue to be cautiously optimistic as the job market remains stable, despite ongoing political uncertainties both at home and abroad. That doesn’t mean government or the private sector should rest on its laurels, however, and robust employment strategies must be used to spur further improvements.”

Young people were found to be the most likely to be unemployed. Smith said this was not a shock. “It’s not surprising that the young – aged 16 to 24 – have the highest unemployment rate at 11.9% compared to the average of 4.3%, as almost half are full-time students, although some have part-time jobs,” she said.

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