Unemployment jump worst for 15 years

THE number of people claiming unemployment benefit across the UK reached its highest level since 2003 during February after the biggest monthly increase for 15 years, official figures revealed yesterday.

THE number of people claiming unemployment benefit across the UK reached its highest level since 2003 during February after the biggest monthly increase for 15 years, official figures revealed yesterday.

The so-called claimant count jumped by 14,600 to 919,700 the Office for National Statistics reported - the largest month-on-month rise since the end of 1992.

Total unemployment, which includes those ineligible for the Jobseekers Allowance, grew by 37,000 in the three months to January to 1.53million and has now increased by 109,000 over the past year.

The number of people classed as economically inactive - such as those who have taken early retirement or given up looking for a job, students, those looking after a family or workers who are off sick - rose by 65,000 over the three months to January to 7.96million, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1971.

Meanwhile, employment fell by 7,000 during the quarter to 28.8million, with a total of 142,000 people being redundant - an increase of 4,000 on the same period a year ago.

The East of England followed the national trend with the claimant count increasing by 1,100 compared with January to 63,000 and total unemployment rising by 3,000 to 131,000.

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In Suffolk and north Essex, the biggest increases were in Ipswich, where the count rose by 152 to 2,503 (an unemployment rate of 3.5%), St Edmundsbury, up 105 to 925 (1.5%) and Waveney, up 128 to 2,408 (5.5%). In each case, the rate represents a rise of 0.2 percentage points compared with January.

There were 0.1% increases in Braintree, up 66 to 1,499 (1.8%), Chelmsford, up 33 to 1,569 (1.6%), Colchester, up 152 to 1,849 (1.8%), Forest Heath, up 19 to 410 (1.1%), Maldon, up 48 to 593 (1.6%), Mid Suffolk, up 33 to 627 (1.2%) and Tendring, up 73 to 2,094 (2.8%).

Smaller increases left the rates unchanged Babergh, up 19 to 653 (1.3%), Suffolk Coastal, up 49 to 897 (1.3%) and Uttlesford, up 15 to 389 (0.9%).

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “These are worrying figures. Employment is down, while unemployment, economic inactivity and involuntary part-time work are all up.

“Manufacturing lost 15,000 jobs between December and January, and 117,000 jobs over 2005. The Bank of England must surely now accept the case for a cut in interest rates, and the Government should significantly increase investment in programmes that help the unemployed back get back into work.”

However, Employment Minister Margaret Hodge insisted: “The fundamentals remain strong. Employment is up on the year, vacancies are up again this quarter and redundancies are at historically low levels.

“However, claimant unemployment is up,” she acknowledged. “To some extent this is offset by falls in numbers claiming other benefits, but we must do more to tackle worklessness and break the cycle of poverty and benefit dependency.

“That is why we set out proposals in January's green paper to reform the welfare system and give people increased support in return for a greater responsibility to look for work.”