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Coronavirus: UK vacancies vanish and starting salaries shrink at fastest rate since 2009

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
A nearly deserted area near Canary Wharf in London as UK vacancies dry up. (PA)

The coronavirus pandemic “continues to wreak havoc” in the UK labour market, with new figures showing a record drop in hiring and starting salaries tumbling.

Data published on Wednesday showed permanent and temporary placements dropping in April at the fastest rate since the survey of UK recruitment firms began in 1997.

The monthly jobs report by consultancy KPMG and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation lays bare how a recent record jobs boom in Britain has been overturned by the crisis.

The latest figures smashed through multiple grim records, with a deterioration of conditions not seen since the global financial crisis.

The availability of candidates, a signal of rising unemployment or under-employment, soared at its fastest rate since 2009. It marked the first month that candidate numbers had actually increased since 2013, with recruiters highlighting widespread redundancies.

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Appointments dropped at record rates in the public and private sectors alike, with hotels and catering showing the most severe decline. Nursing and medical care was the only sector showing increased demand in April.

The crisis has also reversed upward trend in starting salaries in a tight labour market as employers vied for staff before the crisis. Pay offers declined at the sharpest monthly rate since 2009 for both temporary and permanent workers.

The huge financial pressures on firms during the lockdown and abrupt erosion of workers’ bargaining power appear to be driving down pay.

James Stewart, vice chair at KPMG, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the UK jobs market with a record drop in vacancies and recruitment plans frozen.

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“The uncertainty over the outlook is weighing heavily on the nation – we estimate that as many as 13 million jobs are highly affected by the lockdown, representing just over a third of all jobs in the UK.”

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, added: “These numbers set records in all the wrong ways – but they are not unexpected.”

He also called for the government to ensure support for firms “tapers out as the economy returns to normal,” rather than leaving them with an abrupt “cliff-edge.”

Business and union leaders increasingly fear redundancies could soar if the UK government’s unprecedented job protection scheme is cut back before firms have recovered enough to retain staff.

The chancellor is reported to be planning to maintain taxpayer support for more than 6.3 million ‘furloughed’ workers in sectors that cannot reopen swiftly under lockdown easing plans. But he has also warned the scheme is not sustainable, sparking calls from the opposition Labour party for urgent clarity on the scheme’s future.