New stats on the UK's labour market are out, and Mims Davies MP was in Hertfordshire to mark the latest numbers.

Ms Davies, the Conservative government's Minister for Employment, said the new figures mark "really brilliant progress" in the face of a cost-of-living crisis and fears of a recession.

She visited Ocado’s Customer Fulfilment Centre in Hatfield on Tuesday, May 17 to see how Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) schemes are impacting businesses and employees.

"I like to get out on Labour Market Figures Day to see what’s going on in the local economy and to hear where the vacancies are – to see what’s going on in different sectors," Ms Davies said.

As part of her visit, Ms Davies met Ian – who began working as an Ocado picker in Hatfield.

%image(15457935, type="article-full", alt="Minister for Employment Mims Davies met Ian, who began working at Ocado (pictured) as a packer and has since completed an apprenticeship in engineering")

"Ian went from being a picker to an apprentice in engineering, and he’s now moving into more learning and training," she explained.

"We know that the labour market is supporting career progression.

"It’s great to see businesses like Ocado working with us to aid that process.

"Ocado has vacancies, it's a growing business, and there are great opportunities locally."

%image(15457944, type="article-full", alt="Ocado's Customer Fulfilment Centre in Hatfield")

The new statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics on May 17, show that redundancies are down nationwide.

Between January and March 2022, there were an estimated 2.5 redundancies per 1,000 employees. This compares with 2.6 redundancies per 1,000 between October and December 2021, and 3.7 per 1,000 in the three months to September last year.

Unemployment is also down – at a rate of 3.7 per cent between January and March.

But the number of job vacancies is up – a new high of 1.3 million.

There are more job vacancies than unemployed people for the first time since records began.

%image(15457948, type="article-full", alt="Mims Davies at Ocado in Hatfield")

Can small businesses in the labour market keep up with these unprecedented figures?

"Small businesses are often just trying to keep the wheels on the bus," Mims Davies said.

"The fact that there are so many vacancies is good."

She said that the DWP's Way to Work scheme – a plan to match 500,000 jobseekers with work before the end of next month – will benefit small businesses in the short term.

"Particularly for smaller businesses which are busy, where owners might not have time to pick up on recruitment, Way to Work will help.

"We’re not just working with big businesses like Ocado.

"We’re working with the Job Centre to drill into local economies and their needs, and match jobseekers with roles in small firms."

%image(15457954, type="article-full", alt=""We’re working with the Job Centre to drill into local economies and their needs" (File picture)")

At a local level in Hertfordshire, the number of benefit claimants has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Before the Covid-19 lockdown, on March 12, 2020, the number of people claiming benefits – which includes jobseeker benefits – stood at 14,410 in Hertfordshire alone.

By March 2021, this figure stood at 38,200.

The most recent number (March 2022) stands at 20,675.

Redundancies in the East of England – which includes Hertfordshire – fits the national picture.

Between January and March this year, there was one worker made redundant for every 1,000 employees.

This compares with three redundancies per 1,000 between last October and December.

%image(15457961, type="article-full", alt="In March 2022, there were 6,265 more benefit claimants - including Universal Credit claimants - in Hertfordshire than there were during the same month in 2020 (File picture)")

What does the future hold for employees and employers?

The minister said: "Employers are opening up their minds about who they are bringing into their workplaces."

Ms Davies is celebrating bringing one million more disabled people into the workforce than there were five years ago.

"People who have barriers going into work have more opportunities – and some of the best opportunities.

"We've met the one-million mark – a target for us – and we have got further goals we want to set ourselves.

"What matters is that employers aren't just talking about diversity – they are actually doing it.

"And if you are on benefits and things are difficult for you, we can help.

"In work, you could be up to £6,000 better off."

Ms Davies added: "Bringing it full circle, the economy as a whole is coming back strongly.

"Of course, costs are going up and its is more difficult, but the Chancellor is there and HM Treasury is agile enough to support people.

"I think we showed that through furlough.

"It’s obviously all part of a plan, balancing local needs with global issues as well."

The Office for National Statistics' commentary on the latest data reads: "The latest Labour Force Survey estimates for January to March 2022 show that over the quarter there was a decrease in the unemployment rate, while the employment and inactivity rates increased."

The statement adds: "The UK employment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points on the quarter to 75.7 per cent but is still below pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

"The unemployment rate for January to March 2022 decreased by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter to 3.7 per cent.

"For the first time since records began, there are fewer unemployed people than job vacancies."

%image(15457970, type="article-full", alt="Inside Ocado's CFC1 in Hatfield (File picture)")

Jerome Lopez, head of people experience at Ocado, said there are vacancies throughout the company – which delivers groceries nationwide.

Mr Lopez said: "Ocado is happy to support the work with the DWP on the Way to Work campaign.

"Following previous successes, including the Kickstart Scheme and Sector Based Work Academy Placements, we will continue to collaborate in filling vacancies with those people seeking employment via the Job Centres."