The effect of COVID-19 lockdown on job vacancy levels

21 April 2020

The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has published a briefing paper which investigates how vacancy levels have altered across different local areas and various job types.

Analysis sourced from the UK job search engine Adzuna highlights the fact that job vacancies have fallen by 42% since the coronavirus lockdown commenced in March 2020. This is the largest monthly fall in at least twenty years.

The paper is the first in a series which will explore the effect COVID-19 has had and will have, on vacancies. On 15 March 2020, Adzuna listed 820,000 UK vacancies which decreased significantly to 475,000 by 12 April 2020. The drop is two and a half times larger than the previous largest single monthly fall recorded in official vacancy statistics. This was in November 2008, at the height of the last recession, when job vacancy numbers dropped by 17%.

The analysis at regional level, which includes the three devolved nations, shows that the largest falls in vacancy levels have been in Scotland (49% decrease) and London (44% decrease). 

Generally, vacancy levels began to decline in the week ending 15 March 2020 and then fell rapidly in the week ending 29 March 2020. In Wales and Northern Ireland, however, vacancies have fallen more consistently since the start of March. Across all regions and nations, vacancy levels have largely stabilised during April, but are now at levels between 30% and 50% lower than they were prior to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Interestingly, data reveals that the differences within regions are greater than the differences between them, and ten local areas have witnessed vacancies fall by 50% of more, including:

  • Two areas in the North West of England – Blackpool with the largest single monthly fall of 69%, and Trafford, in Greater Manchester, with a fall of 51%
  • Five areas in Scotland - inclusive of Edinburgh, falling 50%
  • Two areas in the South West of England – inclusive of Devon, falling 53%
  • South East London, down by 50%

Conversely, fifteen local authorities have observed a decrease to vacancy levels of less than 30%:

  • Five areas in the North West – Blackburn with Darwen, Oldham, Bury, Tameside and Bolton  - all falling between 23% and 28%
  • Five in the North East – Hartlepool, Darlington, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and North Tyneside - all falling between 18% and 27%
  • Monmouthshire and Newport in Wales, falling 28%
  • Rutland in the East Midlands, down by 27%
  • Two areas in the South East - East Sussex (15%) and the Isle of Wight (2%)
  • Rotherham in Yorkshire and Humberside, which saw a decrease in vacancies of just 4%

The paper also explores changes in vacancies in relation to high level ‘job types’. Jobs are categorised into one of 27 groups, and the key findings are as follows:

  • Unsurprisingly, the largest single fall has been in hospitality and catering jobs, which were down by 70%
  • Vacancies in sales, administration, public relations, consulting, HR and recruitment, energy and charity work have also fallen steeply, by 60%
  • In terms of figures, IT vacancies are down by 44,000, sales vacancies by 43,000, accounting and finance vacancies by 37,000 and engineering vacancies by 35,000

The conclusions drawn from the analysis are that the impacts of coronavirus on jab vacancies are substantially greater than anything observed in at least a generation. The outbreak is affecting job availability in nearly all parts of the country and all sections of the economy but is having particular effect on those working in restaurants and non-food retail. Many professional occupations are also being impacted.

On a positive note, there are still roughly half a million current live vacancies, which has stabilised over the last two weeks, so there are still jobs available for those who are seeking employment. If the lockdown is eased during May and June, then vacancies are expected to rise again, but there is a precautionary note that lockdown should only be eased when it is appropriate to do so, as easing it too early risks far greater economic damage. The IES intends to monitor job vacancy data over the coming weeks and months and will publish its findings in due course.


The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication. For all the latest information, news and resources on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting payroll professions, visit our Coronavirus hub.