Number of long-term jobless hits 20-year high – and most haven’t worked for two years

Figures reveal nearly a million people have been out of work for more than a year

Social Affairs Correspondent

Long-term unemployment is at its highest level in almost two decades, figures released today show.

Around 915,000 Britons have now been unemployed for a year or more, up 32,000 from last year, making it the highest number of long-term jobless since 1996. More than half of these -  474,000 -  have been out of work for at least two years.

Liam Byrne MP, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "it's now clear the Government's so-called welfare revolution has collapsed. Three years into this Parliament, there are now more people unemployed long term than at any time since 1996.

"No wonder George Osborne says the Work Programme is underperforming. The jury is in. The Government's welfare reform has failed. We have a nearly a million young people out of work and nearly a million people locked out of work long term - half of those for two years or more."

Some 87,000 more 16-64-year-olds are economically inactive - meaning they are not in work and have not actively looked for a job in the last month, taking the total to more than 9 million.

Overall, however, the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance has fallen by 72,000 in the last year, to 2.51 m. The total number of people claiming the benefit is now lower than in May 2010.

There were 29.71 million people in employment aged 16 and over, up 336,000 from last year. This was accompanied by a fall in unemployment of 57,000 on the quarter - a figure which included 20,000 fewer unemployed young people.

Minister for Employment Mark Hoban said: "Our welfare reform agenda is about making a fair and affordable system that incentivises work: giving people the support they need to get off benefits and into a job. Today's figures are encouraging, with the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance down and the number of people in work increasing.

"The fall in the number of people claiming out of work benefits, together with the news that there are currently over half a million vacancies available in the UK economy, show that there are opportunities out there for those who are prepared to work hard, and who aspire to get on in life."

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