Dear Mr Timms,

I write in response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s call for evidence for its inquiry on the Department for Work and Pensions’ preparations for changes in the world of work.

As the Committee will be aware, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s National Statistical Institute, and largest producer of official statistics. We aim to provide a firm evidence base for sound decisions and develop the role of official statistics in democratic debate.

We have focused our evidence on the immediate impact COVID-19 has had on the Labour Market and what our initial statistics on industries affected, hours worked and changes to working practices are illustrating. We have also considered the impact of automation on the Labour Market, which may have been accelerated or delayed due to the recent pandemic. We anticipate that our analysis will track the long-term effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Labour Market for some time, alongside the potentially more gradual move to automation, and would be happy to continue to keep the Committee updated.

 I hope this evidence is helpful to the Committee. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

Yours sincerely,

 Jonathan Athow


Office for National Statistics written evidence: Department for Work and Pensions’ preparations for changes in the world of work inquiry


Executive Summary

  • Analysis of the immediate impact of COVID-19 on the labour market shows that while we haven’t seen a significant change in headline employment and unemployment figures, the largest changes are seen in the number of people temporarily away from work, including furloughed workers.
  • Occupations see variety in the probability of automation in the future. The occupations with the highest probability of automation are low skilled or routine occupations, such as waiters and waitresses (72.1%) and shelf fillers (71.70%). Conversely, high-skilled occupations, such as medical practitioners and higher education teaching professionals have a much lower probability of automation at 18.11% and 20.27% respectively.
  • The risk of job loss due to automation is higher for young people and women. When looking at jobs with a higher risk of automation, women account for 70.2% of employees in those jobs, compared with 42.6% of employees in jobs at low risk of automation. Of those aged 20 to 24 years who are employed, 15.7% were in jobs at high risk of automation. Just 1.3% of people aged between 35 and 39 are at a high risk of automation.
  • Young people are more likely to work in low-skilled occupations, putting them at a higher risk of job loss through automation, or being furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic, as lower-skilled occupations are also less likely to have the ability to work from home.
  • The ability to work from home also varies by occupation, with occupations requiring higher qualifications and experience more likely to provide the opportunity to homework than manual occupations. 69.6% of professional occupations did some working from home in April 2020, compared to 18.9% of skilled trade occupations.
  • The amount of homeworking undertaken also varies significantly between regions. Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is more common in London, where 57.2% reported home working, than in the West Midlands, where just over one-third (35.3%) did some homeworking.