New analysis released this morning by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has found that the number of vacancies in the economy has fallen at a faster rate than at any time since vacancy records were first collected in 1948.

The analysis uses vacancy data collected by Adzuna, one of the UK’s largest job search engines. As at Sunday 10 May, there were 329 thousand vacancies in the economy, compared with 820 thousand when the crisis began – a fall of nearly half a million. Vacancies are now nearly two thirds below where they were this time last year, which is larger than any year-on-year fall in official vacancy data since this started being collected in 1948.

The detailed analysis by IES finds that vacancies have fallen furthest in ‘shutdown’ sectors, but have more than halved in virtually all parts of the private sector. Falls have also been greatest in lower-paid work, with vacancies in jobs paying between £15,000 and £25,000 down by around two thirds. All told, this analysis paints a picture of an economy in deep recession, with unprecedently weak demand and very high employer uncertainty.

At the same time however, vacancies are holding up in key worker and essential roles – with job openings actually rising in social care, and falling only slightly in health and in cleaning. Combined, these three job types accounted for nearly one third of all new jobs advertised last week.

Looking at a local level, areas more dependent on private sector jobs and less reliant on the public sector have tended to see the largest falls in vacancies. London in particular has seen the steepest falls in hiring. On the other hand, areas with high rates of public sector and key worker employment have seen slightly smaller falls – including the North East of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, vacancies have more than halved in every region or nation.

Commenting on the figures, Tony Wilson, Director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said: “This week’s vacancy data shows that job creation outside of key worker roles has virtually ground to a halt. We have not seen a collapse in demand on this scale in our lifetimes and there is no doubt that the economy is in a deep recession. However, we think that the bottom may have been reached in the hiring market, and as long as we can keep reducing the rate of infections and begin to ease restrictions then we should start to see vacancies rise in the coming weeks.

“For the likely three million people now unemployed, and the half a million young people due to leave education this summer, this will be the toughest jobs market in generations. So we need to act now to support people to prepare for the recovery when it comes, working with local government, employers and the voluntary and community sector. And we need to put in place measures to deal with the large rise in longer-term unemployment that we’re going to see later in the year, including through a jobs or training guarantee for all young people facing long-term unemployment.”

Dave Innes, Head of Economics at JRF said: “This research helps us understand how the lockdown is affecting people who are vulnerable to poverty. It shows parts of the economy where workers are at the highest risk of poverty, such as restaurants and non-food retail, are being hardest hit by the outbreak. People who were already struggling to get by may find their hours are cut, or their jobs lost altogether at a time when vacancies are down significantly. At the same time, people will be hit by waves of additional costs, with higher bills from being at home more and the rising price of many essentials in the shops.

“Our social security system is a vital lifeline helping many of us weather this storm. The government has announced some welcome new measures, but it must further strengthen the support available, to give those who cannot work at present a lifeline to prevent them being swept into debt, poverty and hardship.”