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Record 31 million people in work

Published 17/04/2015

"Employees are starting to feel far more confident with both their current job and the prospect of finding a new one," the report said

Unemployment has continued to fall and a record 31 million people are in work, the last jobless figures before the general election have shown.

The jobless total fell by 76,000 to 1.84 million in the quarter to February, the lowest for almost seven years.

The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance fell by 20,700 in March to 772,400, the 29th consecutive monthly cut.

Other data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that more than 31 million people were in work after an increase of more than half a million in the past year, the biggest total since records began in 1971.

The UK's unemployment rate is now 5.6%, a fall of 1.3% since a year ago. The rate was 7.9% in May 2010, when the last general election was held.

Around 1.3 million people were in part-time jobs when they wanted full-time work, up by 29,000 in the latest quarter, while self-employment was little changed at 4.5 million.

The number of people classed as economically inactive, including those looking after a relative, on long-term sick leave or who have given up looking for work, fell by 104,000 to just under nine million.

Average earnings increased by 1.7% in the year to February, 0.2% down on the previous month.

Long-term unemployment has also fallen, down by 188,000 to 623,000 for those out of work for at least a year. Youth unemployment - 16 to 24-year-olds - fell by 22,000 in the three months to February to 742,000.

The ONS also reported that 107,000 people were made redundant over the latest three months, little changed on the end of last year, but more than 200,000 fewer than the record peak of 311,000 in early 2009.

There were 743,000 job vacancies across the country in January to March, 124,000 more than a year ago and the highest since records began in 2001.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "Most of these new jobs are mainly low-skilled, low-paid and zero hours. Even skilled workers in the UK face being undercut while wages are stagnant or falling in real terms.

"Most workers have seen little or no evidence of any recovery in living standards due to the Tories not promoting real economic growth based on investment and productivity gains."

Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: " Britain is the job creation powerhouse of the western economies. With record numbers of people in work and the highest employment rate ever, people can see the difference Lib Dems have made in government.

"The balance, common sense, fairness and financial discipline praised by the IMF today are the things we have brought to government."

Rachel Reeves, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "Today's fall in overall unemployment is welcome, but with working people earning on average £1,600 less a year since 2010 and the biggest fall in wages over a parliament since 1874, it's clear the Tory plan is failing.

Dr John Philpott, director of The Jobs Economist, said: " The quarterly increase of 248,000 in the number of people in work in the UK is remarkably strong. With two-thirds of these additional people employed full-time and almost all employees in permanent jobs this surge indicates real momentum in the ongoing jobs recovery.

"Together with zero price inflation, the jobs boom is helping improve real incomes despite the fact that wage pressure remains subdued. However, the rise in employment and real wages continues to mask severe underlying weakness in labour productivity. This will have to improve markedly if the current recovery in living standards is to be sustained into the medium and long-term."

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "There are now two million more people in work than in 2010 - that's more families with the stability and security of a regular pay packet.

"This is thanks to the hard work and the determination of the British people, and the Conservatives' strong leadership and clear economic plan.

"It would all be put at risk with the chaos of a Miliband-SNP stitch-up, hiking borrowing, hurting the economy, and costing jobs - and it'll be hard-working taxpayers who'll pay."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "The latest figures continue to highlight the dynamism and resilience of the UK labour market. Rising employment levels and falling unemployment supports our view that the UK economy will record steady growth in the first quarter, despite the recent disappointing construction and production figures.

"And it is very welcome news that wage increases are now higher than inflation and are boosting living standards.

"However, challenges remain - we must address the youth unemployment rate. Although it continues to fall, it is still more than three times the national average."

Neil Carberry, the CBI's director for employment and skills, said: "It's great to see 248,000 more people in work, the fastest rise in employment in just under a year - thanks to our flexible jobs market.

"With real wage growth rising people have a little more money in their pockets. But we need to see a recovery in productivity before wages can rise faster."

John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: " The latest fall in unemployment comes as no surprise as our research shows more small businesses are hiring compared with a year ago."

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