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More than 20% of UK adults not seeking work

More than a fifth of working-age adults in the UK are currently not actively seeking employment, according to recent figures.

The economic inactivity rate during the period from November 2023 to January 2024 stood at 21.8%, a slight increase compared to the previous year. This means that approximately 9.2 million people aged between 16 and 64 are neither employed nor actively searching for jobs. The total figure has risen by over 700,000 since before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Several factors contribute to this problem

Long-Term Illness: Approximately one-third of the working-age population not participating in the labour force cite long-term illness as the primary reason for their inactivity. Health-related issues have kept a significant portion of the population away from work.

The pandemic: of 2020 caused work flight. 700,000 extra out of the workplace since the coronavirus pandemic Covid 19 hit the UK in 2020.

Students and Education: Students pursuing education are often classified as economically inactive. Their focus on studies and lack of job-seeking activity contribute to this category.

Care Responsibilities: Individuals who care for family members or manage household responsibilities fall into this bracket. Caring duties can be time-consuming and prevent active job hunting.

People with Disabilities: Those with disabilities may face barriers in accessing employment opportunities. Accommodations and inclusive policies are essential to address this issue.

Early Retirement: Some adults choose early retirement, and once retired, they rarely express a desire to return to work. This group contributes significantly to the inactive population.

Discouraged Workers: Individuals who have given up on job searches due to discouragement or lack of suitable opportunities are also part of this category.

Gender Gap: Historically, more women have been classified as economically inactive compared to men. However, this gap has narrowed over the years as more women have entered the workforce.

Age Trends: Recent data indicates that while the number of economically inactive individuals due to illness has decreased, there has been an increase among those aged 16 to 34. Mental health issues are believed to be a contributing factor in this age group.

Persistently high level

The persistently high level of economic inactivity poses challenges for the UK economy. As the country emerges from the pandemic, addressing workforce shortages becomes crucial. Measures such as reducing National Insurance Contributions and extending free childcare services aim to encourage people to seek employment or increase their working hours. 

More effort is needed to further incentivise workforce participation, if not, the UK economy will suffer for many more years than would otherwise be necessary.

Office for national statistics

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