Unemployment hits its highest level for six years

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The Independent Online

The number of people out of work increased by 53,000 in the first three months of the year, to just over 2.5 million, according to official numbers published yesterday.

David Cameron, speaking at his inaugural press conference as Prime Minister, described the figures as a "sign of the massive cost of the economic mistakes of the last decade". The International Labour Organisation figures show that unemployment is now at its highest level since December 2004.

However, the claimant count – the number of people out of work and claiming benefits – fell by 27,100 in April, a sharper fall than had been forecasted.

"The new government starts its life with a deteriorating labour market and no sign of a job recovery," said Ian Brinkley, associate director of the Work Foundation. "Job losses accelerated in the three months to March. Nearly 80,000 jobs went in this period compared with job losses of 12,000 in the three months to December. The new government has some difficult balancing acts ahead but a prime concern of any decisions must be the net effect on employment."

The Office of National Statistics said that the overall unemployment rate was unchanged at 8 per cent.

Youth unemployment has also risen, with 941,000 16- to 24-year-olds out of work in the first quarter. The number was up 18,000 on the last quarter of 2009, the ONS said. The number of economically inactive people – those out of work and not seeking it – jumped by almost 100,000 in March, to a record 8.2 million.

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