Thursday 21 April 2016 4:01 am

Can the rise in unemployment between December and February be blamed on the EU referendum?

Jeremy Cook, chief economist at World First, says Yes.

The referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU is acting as a depressant on almost all UK economic indicators at the moment, and February’s labour market report is simply the latest. That is not to say that every single piece of weakening data is as a result of the vote due on 23 June. British businesses are battling against Chinese and US growth concerns, an increase in currency volatility, contractionary fiscal policy from the Conservative government and a continued pall of good news from the Eurozone. The decision in February to call a referendum for June has brought the deleterious effect on business and consumer confidence forward and this will likely hang like a dark cloud over the UK labour market until the result is known. This is not a longer-term concern for us yet, but the result and external headwinds have the ability to reverse what has been an encouraging recovery in Britain’s jobs market from its 2011 nadir.

Len Shackleton, professor of economics at the University of Buckingham, says No.

Too much attention should never be paid to one set of figures in isolation. We’d also need to look at flows between employment statuses rather than changes in stocks to get a clearer picture. But it doesn’t seem that there is yet any sign of a general shortage of jobs: employment rose together with unemployment, leaving the unemployment rate unchanged. It also appears that the rise in the number unemployed was concentrated among the over-50s, and this may be associated with an evident blip in the number of redundancies. If there is any deterioration in the underlying health of the UK labour market, it is far more likely to be the effect of real changes, such as the increased burden of pension auto-enrolment and the anticipated burden of the National Living Wage and the Apprenticeship Levy – all home-grown policies owing nothing to the EU, incidentally – rather than employers having a fit of the vapours over Brexit.

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