The British labour market

The British labour market
Updated 2021-09-03 12:37

Whether you are a job seeker in the United Kingdom or just curious about the available professional opportunities in the country, the best thing to do is to explore the labour market thoroughly and seek advice from other expats to learn about the various options and the most promising fields for expats.

The British job market before and during COVID-19

For many years, the UK enjoyed a steadily growing economy with an unemployment rate of about 4%. Following the 2007 economic crisis that significantly affected the country, there was a rapid improvement in the financial, tourism, retail, trade, and creative sectors. However, COVID-19 hit the economy massively for the second time in less than 15 years. Between March 2020 and June 2020, when COVID-19 cases in the UK started to climb dramatically, 650,00 people lost their jobs, according to the Office for National Statistics.

A more recent report published in the House of Commons Library lifts people's spirits by suggesting that there's a continued recovery for the UK labour market, and some labour market indicators have even returned to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, employment levels have been increasing while unemployment levels have been falling. Generally, COVID-19 has affected more seriously young professionals, people living in London, professionals from ethnic minority groups, disabled workers, women, and low paid workers, among whom more significant drops in employment and bigger economic inactivity have been recorded.

During the pandemic, wages remained at their pre-pandemic levels. However, hiring has almost paused, leading to fewer employees quitting their current job and looking for a career switch or career growth. This risk-averse mentality indicates a lack of flexibility in the UK labour market, which in pre-pandemic times was used to a high employees' turnover.

COVID-19 considerations:

During COVID-19, self-employment and part-time employment have been hit harder than full-time employment.

COVID-19 considerations:

The number of people who claim unemployment benefits in the UK has risen by 1.1 million people compared to March 2020.

COVID-19 considerations:

Over 11.6 million jobs have been furloughed since the start of the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). According to this scheme — unique in the UK's history — the government pays up to 80% of the workers' wages.

Regional employment in the UK

Due to its geographic situation, the distribution of labour is not homogeneous in the UK. It is easier to find a job in the southeast of England and other big cities across the UK than in other regions. It comes as no surprise that the broadest range and most lucrative jobs are in London. It is essential to critically research areas with the best job opportunities relating to your sector, keeping in mind the work-life balance and budget.


Good command of English is one of the most important requirements when searching for a job in the UK. Unskilled jobs, on the other hand, require a basic knowledge of English.

Finding work in the UK

The best spot to start your job hunt is online. Check out's dedicated jobs page for jobs in England and the rest of the UK. You can explore several job search platforms like Indeed, Monster, TopLanguage, Total jobs, etc. It is essential to adapt your CV to the UK standards and make sure that your social media accounts, especially LinkedIn, are up-to-date since your online presence can increase your chances of networking and landing a new job. Also, you can sign up for the UK National Employment Agency which provides support and career advice, and other services like CV editing.

Good to know:

Your language skills should not be confined to English alone. Your fluency in other languages can be a considerable asset in some industries.

EU and non-EU workers in the UK

To work in the UK, you will need a work visa, and for this, you have to secure a work contract or job offer from a reputable British employer. The employer will be required to sponsor your work visa. If you are already living in the United Kingdom, the procedures relating to the work visa are different.

Social Security (National Insurance) in the UK

Provided you earn more than the stipulated minimum wage, you are expected to make National Insurance Contributions (NICs) in the UK. There are different ‘classes' (aka types) of National Insurance, and the amount you pay depends on your employment status and your annual income. In general, everyone above the age of 16 who earns more than £184 a week pays National Insurance, and self-employed people who make an annual profit of at least £6,515. To pay your National Insurance Contributions, you must have a National Insurance (NI) Number. All non-British citizens working in the UK have to register for the National Insurance (NI) Number. However, legally employed expats in the UK can start attending work without a National Insurance number, meaning that having one isn't required to start work.

Good to know:

The basic income tax rate for workers who earn between £12,571 and £50,270 is 20%.

The work contract in the UK

Upon getting a new job in the UK, you will be asked to sign a work contract. Make sure to read it thoroughly and note the following details:

  • The language the contract is written in: It must be written or translated clearly in English. This will be helpful in case the employee needs legal assistance while in the UK.
  • Probation period: the length and terms of the trial period.
  • Contract duration: the contract duration must be noticeable, especially when it has an ending date.
  • The salary: the currency, the tax rate, and the employee's negotiation power should be stated.
  • Attached benefits: It may include accommodation, air tickets, healthcare, or support for family members such as children and other dependants.
  • Termination notice period.
  • Redundancy package.

Good to know:

Some employment contracts include a trial or probation period during which both the employee and the employer can evaluate the employment agreement, especially if one party is not living up to expectations. The terms and conditions of the trial period must be spelt out clearly in the contract. Usually, the trial period lasts from three to six months.

Salary and the Minimum Wage in the UK

The minimum wage in the UK corresponds to different age groups. In detail, it goes as follows:

  • £4.55 per hour for people under 18 years old
  • £6.45 per hour for people 18-20 years old
  • £8.20 per hour for people 21-24 years old
  • £8.72 per hour for people 25 years old and above
  • £4.15 per hour for an apprentice

The legal working schedule in the UK

The maximum working hours per week in the UK is 48 hours. Those aged 18 and below are only allowed to work 8 hours per day and no more than 40 hours per week. Make sure that your contract states your working hours clearly.

Working conditions in the UK

All workers in the UK are entitled to 5.6 weeks annual leave (paid) on average, statutory sick leave, 52 weeks (1 year) of maternity leave for mothers (receive payment for 39 weeks), paternity leave of one to two weeks and an additional 26 weeks if their partner resumes work before them. An employee can ask for training and flexible working hours, even if employers don't always agree. Employee rights are unique to each employee's contract and the surrounding circumstances. Find more information on the Citizen's Advice website.

Pensions in the UK

If you are working in the UK, you can start saving early for retirement. Saving can be done via the state, the company you are working for, or a private pension scheme. However, expats are only eligible for the State pension after ten years of accumulated contributions.

Remote work after COVID-19

According to a YouGov survey, 57% of British workers want to continue working from home after the pandemic for some days per month (37%) or full-time (20%). However, not all jobs can be done remotely. City jobs in sectors such as finance and IT are more likely to be done from home, even after the pandemic. In contrast, manufacturing jobs, retail jobs, and leisure and hospitality jobs cannot be done remotely, meaning higher paid jobs are more remote-friendly.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.