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Jobless total lowest since crash

Unemployment has dipped to a near seven-year low after a fall of more than 100,000, while a record number of people are in work, new figures have shown.

The jobless total is 1.86 million, the lowest since the summer of 2008 and almost half a million down on a year ago. The jobless rate is now 5.7%, compared to a European Union average of 9.8%.

The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance fell by 31,000 to 791,200 in February - the 28th consecutive monthly reduction.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also reported that employment increased by 143,000 in the latest quarter to January to almost 30.1 million, the highest since records began in 1971.

The employment rate of 73.3% has never been higher.

The number of people classed as economically inactive, including those on long-term sick leave, looking after a relative or who have given up looking for work, fell by 30,000 to just over nine million, or 22.2% of 16 to 64-year-olds.

The figure is 14,000 higher than a year ago.

Self-employment increased by 33,000 to 4.5 million, close to a record high and accounting for more than a quarter of all employment.

Other figures showed that public sector employment has fallen by 6,000 to just under 5.4 million, the lowest since current records began in 1999.

The biggest losses have been in local government, while employment in the NHS increased by 18,000 over the past year.

Average earnings increased by 1.8% in the year to January, down by 0.3% on the previous month. The latest inflation figures will be published next week.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "The highest employment rate in our history is not a dry fact. It means more people with the security of a pay packet and a brighter future."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "This is a remarkable set of figures, which underlines this Government's success in backing businesses to create jobs, and supporting British people to seize those opportunities.

"As a country, we should be proud that there are now record numbers of people in work, record numbers of job vacancies available, and the lowest unemployment rate since 2008.

"For every single day that this Government has been in power, we have seen an average of 1,000 more people in work. In total, that's 1.9 million more people with the self-esteem and financial security that a job brings.

"Thanks to our long-term economic plan, Britain is looking forward to a brighter, better, and more secure future. And thanks to our welfare reforms we have ensured everyone has the skills and the support, as well as the opportunities, to be part of the economic recovery."

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "Today's employment figures are a historic moment. With almost three-quarters of working-age people now in work, we have achieved the highest rate of employment in the UK since records began.

"This is a sign that the long-term decisions the Liberal Democrats have taken in government have created a more resilient economy.

"But we have also created a fairer economy with everyone sharing in the fruits of our recovery, more people, especially women, in full-time jobs and more young people in work. Everyone now has the opportunity to get on in life and achieve their full potential."

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: "The economic recovery under way should be much further ahead than it is.

"The 3.2 million increase in population since 2007 has led to additional economic activity in the UK, as would be expected.

"The new jobs being created are mainly low-skilled, low-paid and very precarious jobs. 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 based on investment and productivity gains."

Rachel Reeves, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "Today's fall in overall unemployment is welcome, but working people are still £1,600 a year worse off since 2010, showing the Tory plan is failing.

"After five years of David Cameron the number of people paid less than a living wage has risen by 44%, and nearly half of all the new jobs created have been in low-paid sectors. It's five years of Tory failure on low pay.

"Labour's better plan for working families will raise the minimum wage to at least £8 an hour before 2020, and give tax rebates to firms who pay a living wage. A Labour government will create more well-paid and secure jobs, build more homes, extend free childcare for working families and guarantee apprenticeships for everyone who gets the grades."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Wages are stuck in the slow lane of recovery and are not set to be back to their pre-recession levels until the end of the next parliament. And today's figures show wage growth getting even weaker.

"Under-employment has fallen very little since the recession, so problems remain with the quality and security of jobs that people are getting. We are still not seeing any significant progress on youth unemployment, which raises concerns that young people are being shut out of the recovery.

"With the labour market still so fragile, the last thing the economy needs is a shock from the extreme austerity that the Chancellor is planning if he is re-elected."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "The latest job figures continue to show that the UK labour market goes from strength to strength. They also support our forecast that the pace of economic growth will edge up slightly in the first quarter of 2015.

"After a setback last month, it is positive that youth unemployment has resumed its decline. We have made impressive progress in this area, but while the youth unemployment rate remains significantly higher than the adult employment rate, we must avoid any action that could hamper progress.

"It is also good news that the annual rise in earnings is considerably higher than that of prices, however the pace of earnings growth is not accelerating. The Bank of England must make clear that the current low level interest rates will be maintained until early 2016 to support business growth and investment."

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "The Government's attack on public sector workers has been unprecedented. The huge drop in spending has seen the axing of thousands of jobs and the cuts in real pay for those who remain in post.

"People may have jobs but for many in 21st century Britain that means one on low pay where the hours are not guaranteed - a situation that plays havoc with family finances and makes life unnecessarily tough.

"The precarious nature of many of the jobs being created means that many workers are too scared to speak out about their drop in living standards for fear of losing the few hours that they have."

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