Unemployment closes in on 2.5 million

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The Independent Online

The number of unemployed people in Britain has risen again, though a slowdown in the pace at which joblessness is increasing and a small fall in the overall rate provided some cheer in yesterday's update from the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS said the total number of unemployed was 2.47 million over the three months to April, up by 23,000.

That equated to a headline rate of unemployment of 7.9 per cent, compared to 8 per cent over the three months to the end of March. And the number of people claiming unemployment benefit in May fell for the fourth month running, the ONS added, with the figure now below 1.5 million.

However, the headline data masks some worrying signs for the labour market. Long-term unemployment – people out of work for more than a year – now stands at 772,000, up by 85,000 to the highest level since 1997.

The number of people classed as economically inactive stands at 8.19 million, suggesting many are opting for education or training, having given up on finding work. The number of part-time workers in the UK is also at a record high, while the figures for full-time employment continue to decline.

"[The data] is a continuation of recent trends with another chunky decline in the claimant count, but a more fragile picture when you dig deeper," said Andrew Goodwin, an economist at Ernst & Young. "It is difficult to see the unemployment rate coming down quickly, with little sign that growth in the private sector can offset the impact of public sector cuts."