Companies seek new sources of labour as number of workers coming from EU falls.

Woman Worker reports that mothers, the over-50s and students entering work helped drive UK employment to a record high during the three months to the end of February, according to data published on Tuesday.

Britain’s jobs market has been robust despite wider concerns about the future of the economy after Brexit. With unemployment at the lowest rate since 1974 and fewer workers coming from the EU, UK businesses have sought new sources of labour.

“The growth in employment was driven mainly by the number of women getting into jobs,” the Office for National Statistics said. Its latest labour market data showed women accounted for 80 per cent of the 179,000 increase in employment during the three months, bringing total employment to 37.2m.

Employment growth came from “inactive workers” – who were not previously looking for a job – rather than those classified as unemployed. The unemployment rate remained steady at 3.9 per cent.

Meanwhile the number of students not working declined by 38,000 while those who were “looking after family/home” dropped by 41,000. This meant the inactivity rate for 16-64-year-olds fell to a record low of 20.7 per cent.

There were 45,000 fewer inactive workers aged between 50 and 64 during the three months, the largest fall of any age group.

The rise in the number of working women accounted for the decline in economic activity during the past five years, the ONS said, partly because of an increase in the age they can claim a pension.

“This reflects ongoing changes to the state pension age, resulting in fewer women retiring between the ages of 60 and 65 years, as well as more women in younger age groups participating in the labour market.”

Budget hotel chain Travelodge said last month it was targeting working mothers with new shift patterns to manage Brexit-related staffing shortages.

Amber Rudd, work and pensions secretary, said it was “particularly pleasing to see there are now a record number of women in work and a record number of people with secure, full-time jobs”.

Tuesday’s data also showed that average weekly wages, including bonuses, were 3.5 per cent higher during the three months than they were a year earlier. Excluding bonuses, average wages were 3.4 per cent higher. After accounting for inflation, real wages were about 1.5 per cent higher than a year earlier, including bonuses.

“Real wage growth has finally returned to pre-referendum levels,” said Stephen Clarke, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank. However, he said that people remained on average £12 a week poorer than they were before the Brexit vote in June 2016.

A fall in the value of the pound following the result raised the cost of imports and led to prices growing faster than wages for a period. Now as the pound has stabilised and inflation has fallen, workers are seeing their pay packets grow in real terms.

“This mini pay recovery is encouraging, but it is likely to be tested in the coming months as inflation is expected to start rising again,” Mr Clarke said.

The increase in employment and hours worked contrasts with relatively sluggish overall economic growth during the three months to February and suggests that UK productivity declined in the first few months of 2019.

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