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Experts wary despite jobless drop


The number of women claiming jobseeker's allowance has hit a 14-and-a-half year high

The number of women claiming jobseeker's allowance has hit a 14-and-a-half year high

The number of women claiming jobseeker's allowance has hit a 14-and-a-half year high

Unemployment fell in the first three months of the year but economists have warned the broader picture fuels concern for the future of the labour market.

The number of jobless declined by 36,000 in the quarter to March to 2.455 million, a rate of 7.7%, down by 0.1% on the previous quarter, said the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

But the number of people on jobseeker's allowance (JSA) unexpectedly shot up in April as the number of women claimants hit a 14-and-a-half year high.

Economists warned unemployment is likely to go up over the coming months, despite the improvement in Wednesday's figures, as Government austerity measures bite.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, has forecast unemployment to increase to 2.67 million by the end of this year.

"We suspect that likely below-trend growth will mean that the private sector will be unable to fully compensate for the increasing job losses in the public sector that will result from the fiscal squeeze that is now really kicking in," he said.

The so-called claimant count increased by 12,400 last month to 1.47 million, the largest increase in 16 months, the ONS said. Economists were expecting a decline of between 4,000 and 10,000.

The number of women claiming JSA increased by 9,300 to 474,400, the highest level since October 1996, while the number of male claimants increased by 3,100 to 994,200. The surge in the female claimant count came as more single mothers switched from income support to JSA, due to changes to benefit rules introduced in 2008, said the ONS.

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said women were bearing the brunt of a "bankers' recession". He added: "As public sector job losses gather pace, the number of women out of work will keep on rising. This is a huge backwards step for equality, and a direct hit on families who are already struggling to cope."

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: "These are welcome figures showing another rise in full-time employment in the private sector. It's good news to see that unemployment is also going in the right direction and pleasing that unemployment has fallen for young people."

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