The latest Office for National Statistics data for the UK labour market reveals that there are now 32.07 million people in work, up 125,000 on the total for January-March this year and 338,000 on the same time last year.

The employment rate (defined as the proportion of those aged 16-64 who are in work) has now hit 75.1 per cent – the highest point since comparable records started being compiled in 1971.

The number of workers engaged on “zero-hours contracts” for their main job plunged by 20,000 year-on-year, while the number of people choosing to go self-employed soared by 23,000. The UK’s self-employed army, which includes skilled contracting professionals, now stands at 4.81 million and represents 15 per cent of the workforce.

Unemployment fell by 57,000 from the January-March total and by 157,000 compared to the same time last year. This translates into an unemployment rate of 4.4 per cent, the lowest level since 1975 and down from the 4.9 per cent recorded at the same point last year.

There was also a 4.4 million increase in the number of hours worked per week since January-March, bringing the total to 1.03 billion. At 768,000, there were 16,000 fewer job vacancies during May to July 2017 than in February to April, but this total nonetheless represents an increase of 23,000 year-on-year. The fall in vacancies this year was chiefly due to a tail-off in recruitment among smaller businesses employing fewer than ten people.

Commenting on the latest data, Recruitment and Employment Confederation CEO Kevin Green welcomed the fact that the UK employment market continued to perform above expectations. However, he also noted that while the number of EU nationals working in the UK still rose, it did so at a much weaker rate than at any point in the last three years. This, he said, may risk vital jobs in engineering, construction and health, each with pressing candidate shortages going unfilled.

Jonathan Lima-Matthews, Senior Policy Adviser at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), was markedly more upbeat in his assessment, however. He said that the UK labour market’s strength continued to lead Europe and perform strongly despite widespread fears of a total economic collapse after the EU referendum result.

Noting the fall in zero-hours contracts and the increased employer reliance on the flexibility provided by the self-employed, he added: “It’s very encouraging, therefore, that today’s figures also show that an additional 23,000 self-employed people entered the workforce between April and June compared to the same period last year.

“Now, as inflation starts to cool, we can reasonably expect to see our workforce growing in size, flexibility and prosperity in the months and years to come.”

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