UK regular wage growth in September hits fastest growth rate since 2008

Excluding volatile onuses, pay was up 3.2 per cent year-on-year in the three months to September, the fastest since December 2008

Ben Chu
Economics Editor
Tuesday 13 November 2018 10:40
Brexsplainer: Living standards, wages and prices

Regular wage growth picked up in September to its fastest rate in almost a decade, official data showed on Tuesday.

Excluding volatile onuses, pay was up 3.2 per cent year-on-year in the three months to September, the fastest increase on this measure since December 2008.

This was up up from the 3.1 per cent growth rate for August, and will be taken by the Bank of England that its forecasts for strengthening wage growth are materialising.

Growth of total pay, including bonuses, also picked up to 3 per cent, up from 2.8 per cent previously, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In its Inflation Report earlier this month the Bank projected average wage growth to accelerate to 3.25 per cent over 2019, up from 2.75 per cent this year.

The Bank has signalled that, assuming Brexit is smooth, it expects to raise interest rates again next year to contain inflationary pressure in the economy.

The ONS said that the jobless rate rose to 4.1 per cent, from 4 per cent previously, in a possible sign that the long decline in unemployment is coming to an end and that, as the Bank has also estimated, slack in the labour market is now exhausted.

The numbers aged 16-64 in employment were also essentially flat on the previous quarter, taking the working age employment rate down fractionally to 75.5 per cent, but still close to a record high.

Adjusted for inflation, average annual pay growth was 0.8 per cent in September, the most rapid since late 2016.

Real wage growth was plunged back into negative territory in the wake of the June 2016 Brexit vote, which caused a record drop in the value of sterling and pushed up inflation, while nominal wage growth remained muted.

Fastest in a decade

However, the ONS also reported that UK productivity – output per hour – disappointed in the third quarter of 2018, falling by 0.4 per cent, wiping out most of the 0.5 per cent increase in the second quarter.

This was due to a 1 per cent jump in total hours worked in the third quarter.

“This stuttering pattern suggests the fundamental challenge of weak productivity growth, as seen over the last decade, persists,” said Katherine Kent of the ONS.

“With pay packets finally picking up, households and retailers will have something to cheer about as we reach the festive period. However, we’re unlikely to be entering a ‘new dawn’ for persistent wage growth just yet, as firms are facing ongoing struggles investing in their productivity,” said Tej Parikh of the Institute of Directors.

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