Record numbers in work: unemployment total falls to 2.5 million

 

A record number of people are in work after another fall in unemployment, with restaurant giant McDonald's boosting the good news by serving up 2,500 new jobs.

But Lloyds Bank and regional airline Flybe put a dampener on the figures by announcing over 1,200 job losses.

Lloyds was attacked by unions, which said the bank had announced 1,300 job cuts in the past few days, and a quarter of its workforce since 2009.

Ministers welcomed the unemployment figures, which also showed a further dip in the numbers claiming jobseeker's allowance.

Almost 30 million adults were in a job in the quarter to last November, up by more than half a million on the previous year.

The figure, giving an employment rate of 71 per cent, is the highest since records began in 1971.

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: "These are very positive figures showing employment rising for over a year and despite difficult economic circumstances unemployment is lower than when this government took office.

"It's good to see long-term unemployment falling and the number of young people claiming jobseeker's allowance dropping again, while the increase in vacancies shows there are jobs out there.

"But we are not complacent, and will continue making sure we give jobseekers the support and training they need to achieve their goal of returning to work."

Unemployment fell by 37,000 in the latest quarter to just under 2.5 million, the lowest since spring 2011.

It was the 10th consecutive fall and was coupled with another cut in the number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance, which was down by 12,100 last month to 1.56 million, the lowest since June 2011.

The number of people classed as economically inactive, including those looking after a relative or who have given up looking for a job, fell by 13,000 to just over nine million.

Part-time employment fell by 23,000, but this was offset by a 113,000 increase in the numbers employed full-time in the three months to November.

Data from the Office for National Statistics also showed a 26,000 increase in the number of women out of work for up to six months, to reach 571,000, which may reflect changes to the benefits system resulting in more single mothers looking for work.

The number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work increased by 1,000 to 957,000, the first rise since last summer, although youth employment showed an increase of 12,000 as more students seek work.

Liam Byrne, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "Today's headline fall in unemployment is welcome news, but today's figures show no roaring recovery, they show very shaky foundations.

"Half of the country saw yet another rise in unemployment, nearly half a million people have been on the dole for more than a year, and youth unemployment rose."

Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, said: "Pay restraint has played an important role in preserving jobs and, with growth in average weekly earnings remaining subdued at 1.5 per cent, it's clear that this is a trend that continues."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "These figures make welcome reading but, with the economy still flat-lining, it is hard to see how these trends can continue.

"The rate at which employment is increasing has started to fall and we won't see a sustained recovery in the jobs market until our economy starts to grow."

Lloyds said the job losses in group operations, insurance, retail, wealth and international and commercial divisions followed a previously announced strategic review.

"The group's policy is always to use natural turnover and to redeploy people wherever possible to retain their expertise and knowledge within the group.

"Where it is necessary for employees to leave the company, it will look to achieve this by offering voluntary redundancy. Compulsory redundancies will always be a last resort," said a statement.

Unite national officer Dominic Hook said: "Since 2009 Lloyds have slashed a quarter of the workforce. It is a complete disgrace that the bank, which is 41% owned by the taxpayer, continues to cut jobs in such a cavalier manner.

"In the middle of an economic crisis, a bank part- owned by the public, should be keeping jobs in the UK, not exporting them abroad."

Ged Nichols, general secretary of the Accord union, predicted that Lloyds will cut another 5,000 jobs this year, adding: "This is a bleak start to the year for hard-working employees and is bad news for the UK economy on a day when the small fall in the numbers unemployed was supposed to be good news.

"The fact that nearly 200 of the jobs are to be outsourced to India is particularly unwelcome. Accord is certain that this is not what UK taxpayers would want from a bank in which they are the largest shareholder."

Exeter-based Flybe said around 300 jobs are to be axed - 10% of its workforce - as it battles to slash costs by £35 million to stem losses.

McDonald's has added more than 20,000 people to its workforce during the last five years.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "A highly-skilled workforce is an important part of any growing business. That's why I am pleased to see how McDonald's is providing training and apprenticeships in a range of skills.

"McDonald's is also to be applauded for helping adult employees get qualifications in maths and English."

Jill McDonald, chief executive of McDonald's UK, said: "These remain challenging economic conditions but I'm pleased that, together with our franchisees, our continued focus on serving quality, affordable food and giving our customers a great experience is enabling us to keep investing in our business and creating jobs."

PA

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