UNEMPLOYMENT has fallen to its lowest for more than a year, although there has been an increase in the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, figures showed today.

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The jobless total fell by 49,000 in the quarter to September to 2.51million, the lowest figure since last summer.

And the number of people in work increased by 100,000 during the quarter to just under 30 million, a rise of over half a million over the past year.

But the narrower measure of those out of work and eligible for the Jobseeker’s Allowance benefit, the so-called claimant count, jumped by 10,100 on a seasonally-adjusted basis last month to 1.58 million, the highest since July, and the biggest monthly rise since last September.

The picture at local level, were the claimant count data is not adjusted for normal seasonal variations, was more mixed but the overall trend across Suffolk and north Essex was downwards, in line with the national unadjusted count which dipped from 1.552m in September to 1,547m last month.

The biggest fall in Suffolk was in Ipswich, where the count fell by 121 to 4,009 and the local unemployment rate by 0.1 of a percentage point to 4.8%.

Rates also fell by 0.1% in Mid Suffolk, where the count fell by 56 to 1,098 (representing a rate of 1.9%) and St Edmundsbury, down 79 to 1,566 (2.4%), while smaller falls left the rate unchanged in Babergh, down 21 to 1,267 (2.5%), and Forest Heath, down 17 to 870 (2.1%).

However, small increases were recorded in Suffolk Coastal, up five to 1,310, and Waveney, up 18 to 2,950, although the unemployment rate remained unchanged in each case, at 1.8% and 4.2% respectively.

North and mid Essex fare slightly less well, with unemployment rates edging higher by 0.1% in Braintree, where the count grew by 23 to 2,525 (2.8%), Tendring, up 44 to 3,275 (3.9%) and Uttlesford, up54 to 758 (1.6%).

A smaller increase in Chelmsford, up just four to 2,737, left the rate unchanged at 2.5% and, despite falls in the local counts, rates also remained steady in Colchester, down 83 to 3,122 (2.6%), and Maldon, down two to 842 (2.1%).

Other figures from the Office for National Statistics today showed that long-term unemployment, those out of work for over a year, increased by 12,000 in the quarter to September to 894,000, while 443,000 people have been jobless for over two years, up by 21,000.

Part-time employment increased by 49,000 to 8.1 million, close to a record high, while there were 51,000 more people in full-time jobs, at 21.4 million.

Unemployment among women fell by 10,000 to 1.09 million, and by 39,000 among men to 1.43 million. Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds fell by 49,000, which accounts for the total fall in today’s jobless figures.

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: “It’s good news to see yet another increase in the number of people in work and to see unemployment fall again. The fall in youth unemployment is particularly welcome, although we’re not complacent about the scale of the challenge still facing us.

“We’re working hard to help the long-term unemployed back into a job.

“That’s why we’ve committed to supporting the hardest-to-help people over a two-year period through the Work Programme so that we can help them overcome their barriers to work and get them into sustainable jobs.”

However, Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: “With unemployment stuck at two and a half million, a lot of families face a miserable Christmas without any hope of getting a job. It is definitely hurting but it’s not working.

“We have been seeing further job losses in both the public and private sectors over the past two months and it is hard to see where the new jobs are going to come from with confidence at rock bottom. The Chancellor needs to use next month’s autumn statement to kick-start the economy.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Tougher times may still be ahead if our economy starts to slow again in the autumn quarter. There are still big challenges ahead, with long-term unemployment rising, real wages falling and far too many young people out of work.

“Today’s improvements can only be sustained if the Government acts to keep our economy moving. We also need far more investment in quality support for those who are out of work to ensure that they can share in our emerging jobs recovery.”

Neil Carberry, the CBI’s director for employment and skills, said: “It’s encouraging that people are continuing to find jobs and that the unemployment rate is falling, but progress on getting people into work is much slower than we saw earlier in the year, and last month there was a troubling rise in the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance.

“Youth unemployment remains a concern despite the recent fall in overall numbers. Our focus should be on helping young people build the skills and aptitudes needed to get on in life and work.”

Charles Levy, of the Work Foundation, said: “The private sector is continuing to create new jobs, and unemployment is falling. These statistics paint a picture of an economy in recovery, which is difficult to reconcile with the weakness of the economy over the last year.

“One consequence of this mismatch is the ongoing fall in wages, which will be exacerbated by yesterday’s surprisingly high inflation figure.”

John Walker, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “These are the last set of figures before the Chancellor delivers his Autumn Statement and he must help to embed this growth by bringing forward policies which help small firms grow.

“However, the stats show that long-term unemployment continues to rise, especially for women and 16-to-17-year-olds.”

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The latest job market figures are again encouraging and support our assessment that the UK economy will grow over the next year, albeit at a modest pace.

“There are still some areas of concern. The claimant count has increased, youth unemployment is still too high, and half of the new jobs created in the last three months have been part-time.

“There is little doubt that the economy has been stagnant for too long, despite the positive GDP figures in the third quarter.”

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