UK jobless total lower than before the financial crisis
- Credit: PA
UK unemployment has dipped to a near seven-year low following a fall of more than 100,000 over the past three months, according to official figures released today.
The jobless total of 1.86million for the three months to January is the lowest since the summer of 2008, before the financial crisis.
It represents a fall of nearly 500,000 compared with a year ago and means that the UK’s employment rate is now 5.7%, compared with a European Union average of 9.8%,
The narrower count of those eligible to claim the Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by 31,000 to 791,200 in February, the 28th consecutive monthly reduction.
The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also show that employment increased by 143,000 in the quarter to January to almost 30.1m. This is highest figure since records began in 1971, while the current employment rate of 73.3% has also never been higher.
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Meanwhile, average earnings increased by 1.8% in the year to January, down by 0.3% on the previous month’s figure but still well ahead of the CPI rate of inflation which grew by just 0.3% in the year to January.
Most local authority areas in Suffolk followed the national downward trend in claimant count unemployment, with the way being led by Ipswich and Waveney which each saw the local jobless rate fall by 0.1 of a percentage point. In Waveney the count fell by 63 to 1,414 (representing a rate of 2.1%) while in Ipswich the count was 20 lower at 2,118 (a rate of 2.4%).
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Smaller falls left jobless rates unchanged in Babergh, down 20 to 494 (1.0%), Mid Suffolk, down eight to 539 (0.9%), and Suffolk Coastal, down 16 to 504 (0.7%).
In the west of the county, however, the count increased in St Edmudsbury by 21 to 788 and the rate by 0.1% to 1.2% while in Forest Heath the count was unchanged at 363, still representing at rate of 0.9%.
The picture was more mixed in north and mid Essex. Claimant counts fell in Colchester by 46 to 1,441 and in Tendring by 40 to 2,202, although the local jobless rates remained unchanged, at 1.3% and 2.9% respectively, while in Uttlesford, a fall in the count of 11 to 325 was enough to cut the unemployment rate by 0.1% to 0.6%.
However, the claimant count in Maldon grew by 29 to 450 and the rate by 0.1% to 1.2%. The counts also increased in Braintree, by nine to 1,276, and Chelmsford, by 36 to 1,551, although the jobless rates remained unchanged, at 1.4% in each case.
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.”
And 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.”
However, 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.”