UK worker numbers have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels after the biggest jump in employment since 2014, new figures show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the number of UK workers on payrolls rose by 241,000 between July and August to move 1,000 above levels before the coronavirus outbreak.
It also said the rate of unemployment dropped again, to 4.6% – in line with analysts’ predictions.
Meanwhile, vacancy numbers soared by 249,000 to more than one million for the first time since records began amid labour shortages in some key UK industries.
Jonathan Athow, ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said: “Early estimates from payroll data suggest that in August the total number of employees is around the same level as before the pandemic, though our surveys show well over a million are still on furlough.
“However, this recovery isn’t even: in hard-hit areas such as London, and sectors such as hospitality and arts and leisure, the numbers of workers remain well down on pre-pandemic levels.
“The overall employment rate continues to recover, particularly among groups such as young workers who were hard hit at the outset of the pandemic, while unemployment has fallen.”
The ONS also reported a “strong increase” in the employment rate among people aged between 16 and 24, alongside a decrease in the unemployment and inactivity rates.
Young people had seen particularly significant increases in unemployment as retail, hospitality and leisure roles were impacted by the pandemic.
The latest figures showed significant growth in these industries, as they helped push vacancies to record levels.
The number of job vacancies recorded between June and August 2021 was 1,034,000, with the accommodation and food services industry seeing a 75.4% increase in the number of job openings.
Mr Athow added that the hospitality sector recorded “the highest proportion of employers reporting their job openings are hard to fill”.
Meanwhile, the ONS also reported a continued increase in wage growth, with total earnings, including bonuses, rising by 8.3% for the three months to July against the same period last year.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Today’s statistics show that our plan for jobs is working – the unemployment rate has fallen for seven months in a row, the number of employees on payrolls is back above pre-pandemic levels and there were fewer potential redundancies notified in August than at any point since the start of last year.
“As we continue to recover from the pandemic, our focus remains on creating opportunities and supporting people’s jobs.”