Breaking down barriers to work needs to be general election priority – May’s employment figures

Author - Courtney Hiles

Date published:

Callum George, policy adviser at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said:

The ONS employment figures released today (14 May) suggest a worsening in labour market conditions, which is having tangible impacts on both businesses and people. 

In the short term, this has demonstrated a widening of regional inequalities, with the North East having the highest economic inactivity rate in England.

Between January and March 2024, the unemployment rate in the North East for those aged 16+ was higher than the national average, by 0.1%. The economic inactivity rate for people aged 16-64 in the North East remained higher than the national average, by 5.5%. As a result of this, the region’s employment rate for those aged 16-64 was 5.4% lower than the national average.

When looking at the reasons for people not looking for employment, ill health is the largest contributing factor. Last month, we spoke to members about the importance of occupational health. The impact of people being unable to work due to long term sickness was highlighted as a major issue for businesses.

We know that in our region there are significant opportunities on the horizon – through further and deeper devolution, or the exciting new industries emerging here in the North East. It is crucial that as many people as possible have the chance to take advantage of this, and secure rewarding, good work.

Following the recent mayoral elections for the North East and Tees Valley, we are reassured by the importance placed on supporting people into work and improving the quality of life in our region by both successful candidates. 

Ahead of a likely general election before the end of the year, we would urge both major parties to make breaking down barriers to work a priority.


  • Official statistics under review published by the ONS suggest between January and March 2024, the unemployment rate in the UK for ages 16+ was 4.3%. In the North East this was higher at 4.4%.
  • The UK’s employment rate for ages 16-64 was 74.5%. In the North East this was lower, at 69.1%.
  • The UK’s economic inactivity rate for ages 16-64 was 22.1%. In the North East this was higher, at 27.6%.
  • The ONS continues to use experimental data following issues with data collection earlier this year and in 2023, which made employment figures unavailable for a period. For more details on the ONS’ switch from experimental data to official statistics under review, please click here.
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