Chancellor Rishi Sunak said an increase in payrolled staff across the UK was proof that the jobs market was “thriving”, but figures show wages are struggling to keep up with the increasing cost of living.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows an estimated 85,724 people in Bedford were on company payrolls in December – 382 more than in November.
The figure was up from 82,632 in December 2020 and was above pre-pandemic levels – 84,001 workers were recorded on company payrolls in December 2019.
The number of workers on UK payrolls jumped by a record 184,000 month-on-month, to 29.5 million.
The ONS cautioned the payroll figures, which do not include the self-employed, are early estimates which can be revised in future months.
Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said new survey figures showed the unemployment rate had also fallen back to pre-pandemic levels nationally.
He said: “Those reporting they’d recently been made redundant fell to their lowest since records began more than a quarter of a century ago.
“However, while job vacancies reached a new high in the last quarter of 2021, they are now growing more slowly than they were last summer.”
The data also shows the median monthly salary for payrolled workers in Bedford rose from £2,111 in November to £2,128 at the end of the year.
Separate figures show in the UK the average wage growth including bonuses was 4.2 per cent in the three months to November.
However, with inflation hitting 5.1 per cent in November, it means real wages failed to keep up with the rising cost of living for the first time since July 2020.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson blamed changes in the global economy for the cost of living crisis.
He said: “Globally we are seeing challenges caused by inflation and cost of living, particularly as the global economy emerges from the worst of the pandemic
“Real wages are 2.9 per cent above pre-pandemic levels. But we know people are facing pressure with the cost of living.
“That’s why we’re taking action worth billions of pounds to help – be it the Universal Credit taper, increasing the minimum wage, supporting households with their bills or freezing alcohol and fuel duty.”
Separate figures published by the ONS also show in the Bedford local authority area there was a fall in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits last month.
Around 5,275 people were on out-of-work benefits as of December 9, down by 1,575 from the month before.
It meant 5 per cent% of the area's working population sought support in December.
The figures include those aged 16 to 64 on Jobseeker’s Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, who are unemployed and seeking work or employed but with low earnings.