Unemployment 'in right direction'
The Government has maintained that unemployment is heading in the "right direction" despite an increase in the number of people on Jobseeker's Allowance and continuing concerns over youth joblessness.
Unemployment fell by 17,000 in the quarter to February, to 2.48 million, a rate of 7.8%, down by 0.1%, while the number of people in work increased by 143,000 to 29.23 million, although the figure is still 331,000 below the pre-recession peak reached in May 2008.
The number of jobless 16 to 24-year-olds increased by 12,000 to 963,000, while the total for 16 and 17-year-olds climbed by 14,000 to 218,000, the highest since records began in 1992.
Unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds fell by 2,000 to reach 745,000, the office for National Statistics said.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: "These figures are another step in the right direction. It's good news to see a rise in the number of full-time jobs in the private sector and the fall in unemployment is welcome.
"It is also reassuring to see a fall in the number of young people not in full-time education who are unemployed."
Unions, business groups and opposition politicians voiced concern over the figures and one campaign group described the prospects for a generation of young people as "increasingly bleak".
The data showed that the number of unemployed men has fallen by 31,000 to 1.45 million and increased by 14,000 for women to just over a million.
Changes to benefit rules have seen women switching from income support to Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) over the past two months.
The number of female claimants has now increased for nine months in a row and fallen for men for 14 consecutive months.