According to today’s labour market report from the ONS, total hours worked in the UK reached a new peak in the final quarter of 2015. However, due to the growth in employment, average hours per worker have been around the same level as they were before the financial crisis for the past year or so. As ever, there are large regional differences, with only a few regions currently back to their pre-crisis levels.
What does the chart show?
The chart shows average weekly hours across all workers (both full-time and part-time, and including people with more than one job) aged over sixteen, for a variety of regions. The black line shows the national average for the whole of the UK.
Why is the chart interesting?
One of the characteristics of the financial crisis was that unemployment was not as high as you might have expected, given the depth of the reduction in GDP. Instead, working hours were cut, leading to an average 35 minute reduction in the UK working week between 2007 and 2009. Between 2009 and 2014 hours slowly rose back up to their pre-crisis level for the country as a whole, but there have been large regional variations.
Only two of the regions included in the chart currently have higher average working hours than they did before the crisis: the East Midlands (which was one of the only regions to be relatively unaffected by the mini-downturn in 2011, uniquely suffering in 2013 instead) and the North West. Average working hours in Scotland and the North East remain more than half an hour lower today than in 2007; the North East was the only region where the average dropped to below 31 hours per week (in 2011), and Scotland has gone from having a longer than average working week to one that is below the national average.
Northern Ireland and London are the two obvious outliers in this week’s chart. In both regions, the average working week has been much longer than elsewhere in the country. London did briefly recover to pre-crisis levels in 2013, before suffering a second slump that is in many ways worse than the one in 2007-09. Northern Ireland’s average working week decreased by an incredible hour and a half between 2007 and 2011, but has recovered strongly since.
A long working week might not be considered a desirable achievement in itself, but the second characteristic of the post-recession period has been poor weekly pay growth, and these two things are connected.