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Unemployment falls to seven-year low

Unemployment has fallen to a seven-year low while a record number of people are in work, new figures have shown.

The jobless total dipped by 79,000 to 1.7 million in the quarter to August, the lowest figure since the summer of 2008, giving a jobless rate of 5.4%.

Employment increased by 140,000 in the same three months to 31 million, the highest since records began in 1971.

The Office for National Statistics said the fall in unemployment more than outstripped recent rises.

But the number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance and the unemployment element of Universal Credit - the so-called claimant count - increased last month by 4,600 to 796,200.

Average earnings increased by 3% in the year to August, 0.1% up on the previous month and the highest since May.

ONS labour market statistician Nick Palmer said: "Wages continue to grow strongly in real terms."

There were just over nine million people classed as economically inactive, a rate of 22%, and little changed from the three months to May.

The figure, which includes those taking early retirement, looking after a relative or "discouraged", has only fallen by 13,000 in the past year.

There were 1.2 million people in part-time jobs who wanted full-time work, down by 9,000.

The number of job vacancies in the economy increased by 4,000 over the latest quarter to 738,000.

Long-term unemployment has also fallen, down by 44,000 to 526,000 for those out of work for over a year.

The UK has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU, which has an average of 9.5%, with only Germany, the Czech Republic and Malta having lower rates.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "This is a fantastic set of figures, which show more people in work than ever before and a strong growth in wages. That is a credit to British business, and a credit to the hardworking people of this country.

"Alongside this, unemployment has fallen to the lowest level since 2008, and long-term unemployment has dropped by a staggering quarter over the last year.

"This positive picture is replicated up and down the country, demonstrating that this one-nation Government is delivering a society with opportunity and security for all at its heart."

Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: "The job losses at Redcar steel works and JCB are dark clouds on the horizon.

"Employment growth is likely to slow as large cuts in public sector employment kick in and as lower-paid workers seek more hours to make up for the nearly £30 per week cuts they face in tax credits."

James Sproule, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: "Another month of impressive jobs figures and strong wage growth show that the business-led recovery is well on track. Despite uncertainties at home and abroad, employers have continued to create jobs, raise productivity and boost pay in a vote of confidence in the British economy.

"Employment is up in most sectors and across the country, pay is growing and long-term, short-term, and youth unemployment are all falling. This is a welcome sign of a healthy economy, a strong private sector, and a tightening labour market."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Renewed employment growth is welcome and while there are still years of lost ground to make up it's good to see private sector wages rising. But public sector workers are increasingly falling behind. The challenge now is delivering a recovery that works for everyone across the country, regardless of which region or sector they work in.

"Despite today's improvements, it is also clear that there is still spare capacity in the jobs market. With inflation at zero, and rising numbers of workers in temporary jobs looking for full-time work, there is no case for immediate rate rises."

Matthew Whittaker, chief economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: "It's encouraging to see unemployment falling again, after a pause earlier this year. But there is significant variation in the extent to which this jobs' revival has been shared across the country. Many parts of the UK remain a long way short of their pre-recession levels."

Other figures showed that the number of private sector business in the UK has hit a record 5.4 million.

The Business Population Estimates showed the number of businesses that employ people has grown for the second year running, with 35,000 more at the start of 2015 than in 2014.

Small businesses continue to make up 99.3% of all businesses and generate over £1 trillion turnover for the UK's economy.

There has also been an increase in the number of medium-sized businesses, which employ between 50 and 249 people, with 1,000 more of these firms at the start of 2015 than in 2014.

Business Minister Anna Soubry said: "It's fantastic news there are now a record number of businesses in the UK, creating jobs and ensuring our country's economic security.

"But with risks in the global economy, this Government is determined to continue to back our businesses and grow our economy."

Owen Smith, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "While it is welcome that unemployment is falling, after having increased in recent months, concerns over pay and tax credits are growing for millions of British workers.

"The Tories are actually making the situation worse for low and middle-paid workers, as cuts to tax credits will take an average £1,300 out of the pockets of up to three million working families.

"People are working harder than ever, but will rightly feel that the Government is working against them."

Matthew Fell, the CBI's interim chief policy director, said: "We're encouraged by businesses creating more jobs, leading to rising employment. It's also good to see falling unemployment, particularly among those out of work for more than one year dropping by 44,000.

"While we want to see higher pay growth, this must go hand in hand with increases in productivity. It's crucial that the Low Pay Commission retains autonomy over future national living wage rises to avoid unnecessary political interference and help boost jobs."

Provisional statistics showed that more people than ever are doing an apprenticeship in England, said the Government.

More than 872,000 people were employed on government funded apprenticeships during the 2014-15 academic year, with almost 30,000 people on higher and degree apprenticeships.

Skills Minister Nick Boles said: "We are committed to delivering three million apprenticeships by 2020 because that means more opportunities for our young people, more growth for our businesses.

"Through protecting apprenticeship quality, reforming funding and working with top universities to launch new degree apprenticeships, we are making sure apprenticeships deliver for individuals, businesses and the economy."

IPPR chief economist Catherine Colebrook said: "The latest data suggests the economy is continuing to create jobs, with the employment rate at a new high, and unemployment at its lowest level since 2008.

"However, a closer look at the data suggests weaknesses remain. There are big regional disparities, with the employment rate in the North East a full 10% lower than that in the South West.

"Inactivity across the UK remains high, at just over a fifth of the working-age population. The Government will have to tackle these weaknesses if it is to succeed in creating two million more jobs over the next five years."


From Belfast Telegraph