Jobless figure falls again to lowest since 1975

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The Independent Online

The number of people claiming unemployment benefit fell last month to the lowest level since 1975 as official figures showed a record number of people in work.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefit fell last month to the lowest level since 1975 as official figures showed a record number of people in work.

More than a quarter of a million jobs have been created in the past year, taking employment to its highest level with 28.1 million people in work.

The figures came as a welcome pre-election boost for Labour which was quick to claim the credit for successful management of the economy. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, said: "Labour's record of economic stability, action on jobs and support for enterprise is working for every region and every community in Britain."

Some economists had predicted that the jobless total would climb back above the politically sensitive million mark in April but, in the event, there was a decline of 10,200, taking the number of unemployment benefit claimants to 975,800.

However, manufacturing industry, much of it concentrated in Labour's heartlands, is still shedding jobs, with a loss of 101,000 in the first three months of this year. Yesterday brought news that a further 248 jobs will be lost at the shipbuilder Cammell Laird in the next two weeks.

Sudhir Junankar, an economist at the Confederation of British Industry, said: "The further falls in unemployment are welcome, but recent job losses in manufacturing are of concern and highlight the severe competitive pressures firms are under."

Economists expect that slower growth this year will lead to some rise in unemployment in the months ahead.

There was no sign that the continuing rise in the number of people in work is leading to pay pressures. Yesterday's figures showed average earnings rose 5.1 per cent in the year to March, little changed from the previous month.

The Bank of England played down concerns about pay. Presenting its quarterly inflation report, Mervyn King, the deputy governor, left the door open to further cuts in interest rates if the economy weakens. He said the fact that the next interest-rate meeting concludes on the day before the general election would not influence the Bank's decision.

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