Gap in pay growth between the public and private sectors has never been wider

The labour market may be turning but it hasn’t turned yet. Credit: PA

If the Bank of England is right then the UK economy already in recession. 

Squint hard and you can just about make out the outline of a downturn in this morning’s Labour Market numbers.

The headline rate of unemployment rose slightly (to 3.7% in October), so too did the number of people being made redundant. 

The labour market may be turning but it hasn’t turned yet. 

Employment is still rising, company payrolls are heavily laden with staff. The number of vacancies may have fallen again but they still match job-seekers 1:1.

And just look at pay growth. It’s the worst of both worlds.

Wages across the economy aren’t rising strongly enough to keep pace with runaway consumer prices but have enough momentum to unsettle the Bank of England.

The Monetary Policy Committee will surely see a headline rate of 6.1% as unacceptably high - evidence that prices and pay are spurring each other upwards.

The squeeze on living standards appears to be driving people back into work - economic inactivity fell by 76,000 in the three months to October - but businesses still complain about recruitment difficulties and an increasing number of investors are now betting the Bank will raise interest rates by 0.75% on Thursday.

“Real” pay fell by 2.7% in October for the 12th month in a row. Double-digit inflation leaves everyone feeling poorer but some are feeling poorer than others.

The gap between pay growth in the public sector (2.7%) and the private sector (6.9%) has never been wider, according to the ONS. 

“Unsustainable” - That’s the view of Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. 

The government preaches pay restraint but many of the five and a half million people who work in the public sector have endured pay restraint for years - average real income was higher in 2010 than it is today.

It’s little wonder that the unions are on the march or indeed that the NHS is finding it such a struggle to attract the people it needs.

The ONS calculates that 417,000 working days were lost to strike action in October - the highest we’ve seen for eleven years. 

That’s not even close to “1970s” levels of industrial action (in October 1979, 3.5 million days were lost) but the number will increase as winter progresses.

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