About the Labour Force Survey (LFS)

What is it?

The Labour Force Survey is a survey of households living at private addresses in the UK. Its purpose is to provide information on the UK labour market which can then be used to develop, manage, evaluate and report on labour market policies. The survey is managed by the Office for National Statistics in Great Britain and by the Central Survey Unit of the Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland on behalf of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETINI).

Since 1992, the LFS in Great Britain has run as a quarterly survey (1994/95 for Northern Ireland). The quarterly surveys have until spring 2006 operated on a seasonal quarter basis. However, mostly due to an EU requirement under regulation, in May 2006 the LFS moved to calendar quarters. The 2006/07 data is the first set of HSE data based on the LFS to be affected by this change. For more details about this change see 'Comparability of LFS data over time'.

How is it structured?

The LFS is intended to be representative of the whole population of the UK, and the sample design currently consists of around 33,000 responding households in every quarter. The quarterly survey has a panel design whereby households stay in the sample for five consecutive quarters (or waves), with a fifth of the sample replaced each quarter. Thus there is an 80% overlap in the samples for each successive survey.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) had an impact on the achieved LFS sample in 2020 quarter one; social distancing measures were implemented towards the end of the quarter leading to a decline in response rates as face-to-face interviews moved to telephone interviews (see LFS Performance and Quality Monitoring Reports: January to March 2020 for more details). The uneven distribution of the achieved sample across the quarter has been accounted for with methodological changes to the LFS weights. The overall achieved sample for 2020 quarter one (77,903 individuals in 33,329 households) was about 11% lower than the achieved sample for 2019 quarter one (87,417 individuals in 37,167 households).

What are the participation levels?

The LFS household specific response rates are now around 60% (including information for earlier waves rolled forward for refusals) down from around 70% during the start of 2000. LFS response rates and other quality-related issues are available in the LFS Performance and Quality Monitoring Reports.

The LFS allows interviewers to take answers to questions by proxy if a respondent is unavailable. This is usually from another related adult who is a member of the same household. About a third of the LFS responses are collected by proxy, with variation in this proportion by age, sex, ethnicity and economic activity.

Dawe and Knight (1997)1 showed that for many key variables the agreement between proxy informants and the same information given by the subjects themselves to be high - above 80%. However, for those variables requiring very detailed numerical information such as hours worked, agreement was found to be less satisfactory.

Based on 1993/94-2003/04 data, R.Davies et al2 showed that proxy respondents are 24% less likely than first person respondents to report the occurrence of a workplace injury. In terms of work-related illness, J R Jones et al3 reported that in 2004/05 proxies reported rather less work-related illness (3.6% of interviews) than first person respondents (5.3% of interviews). Likewise, based on 2001/02, 2003/04-2008/09 data restricted to individuals in work, R.Davies et al4 showed that spouses or partners acting as proxy respondents are 26% less likely than first person respondent to report suffering from a work-related illness. This increased where the proxy respondent was not a spouse or partner.  Whilst these differences may reflect the difficulty that a proxy respondent has in correctly providing this personal information, it may reflect a 'healthy worker' effect whereby the respondent is more likely to be away from home and their response correctly given by a proxy respondent. Because of this and other uncertainties (see Reliability of self-reported work-related illness), no adjustment is made in the data for proxy responses.

For more detailed background information on the LFS than is given here see 'The LFS User Guide Volume 1: Background and Methodology'.


  1. Dawe, F and Knight, I (1997): A Study of proxy response in the Labour Force Survey. Survey Methodology Bulletin (No. 40). Back to reference of footnote 1
  2. Rhys Davies and Paul Jones (2005): Trends and context to rates of workplace injury. Back to reference of footnote 2
  3. J R Jones MSc, C S Huxtable BSc and J T Hodgson MSc: Self-reported work-related illness in 2004/05: Results from the Labour Force Survey. Back to reference of footnote 3
  4. Rhys Davies, Huw Lloyd-Williams and Emma Wadsworth: Analysis of the Correlates of Self-reported Work-related Illness in the Labour Force Survey . Back to reference of footnote 4
Updated 2021-05-19