Unemployment at 17-year high


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The Independent Online

The UK's unemployment rate rose to a 17-year high today, as the flatlining economy continued to take its toll on the labour market. 

Unemployment leapt by 48,000 over the last three months of 2011, taking the jobless total to 2.67 million - a rate of 8.4 per cent and the worst employment figures since 1995.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance rose by 6,900 in January to 1.6 million, the 11th successive monthly increase.

The number of women claiming the allowance increased by 1,500 over the last month to 531,700, the highest figure since the summer of 1995. This is partially motivated by government reforms that have forced single mothers to return to employment.

There was also an increase of 22,000 in youth unemployment, taking the total to 1.04 million. This figure includes 307,000 in full-time education but seeking work.

Data from the Office for National Statistics also showed employment increased by 60,000 to 29 million in the last quarter, mainly due to a rise of 90,000 in the number of part-time employees to 6.6 million.

The 48,000 overall increase in unemployment was the slowest quarterly rise since last summer, when the jobs market was swiftly declining after positive results throughout much of 2010.

Economic inactivity fell by 78,000 to 9.29 million, 23 per cent of the working age population. These figures include students, the long-term sick, early retirees and those who have given up the search for employment.

Average pay grew by 2 per cent in 2011, although it fell from 1.9 to 1.7 per cent in the public sector - the lowest figure since 2001.

There were 1.39 million days lost through industrial disputes in the year to last December, the highest figure since 2002, while around 164,000 people embraced redundancy in the final quarter of last year, up by 17,000 from the three months to September.

Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform, said: "The latest figures show some encouraging signs of stability despite the challenging economic climate.

"With more people in employment and a rise in vacancies, it's clear the private sector is still creating jobs.

"However, we are not complacent. With more people in the labour market we know that competition for those jobs is tough and we will continue to make it our priority to find people work."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "Month after month unemployment goes up. This is a crisis but the Government simply carries on with more of the same - an economic strategy that isn't working.

"A further rise in youth unemployment is a particular concern. Long-term youth unemployment is now double what it was a year ago.

"Instead of this dangerous complacency, the Government should be providing real hope to young people. They should be taxing the bankers' bonuses and using the money to help young people back to work."

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, said: "The Tories' economic policies aren't working.

"With the number of women out of work at a 16-year high, and one in three unemployed people out of work for more than a year, Cameron's claims that we're all in it together sound increasingly hollow.

Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the rise in women's unemployment was "turning back time" on equality.

She added: "These new figures must act as a wake-up call to Government - we are in a time of crisis. Cuts are threatening women's equality as jobs dry up, benefits are slashed and vital public services disappear.

"Women will make up two-thirds of the estimated 700,000 public sector workers expected to lose their jobs by 2015.

"Women are shouldering some 70% of the cuts to benefits, while it is women who are picking up the pieces as councils are forced to slash support services such as meals on wheels and after-school clubs."

Martina Milburn, chief executive of youth charity The Prince's Trust, said: "Young people are facing the bleakest jobs market for decades, which is crushing self-esteem and derailing ambition. We need to act now to ensure an unemployed generation does not become an unemployable one.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "These figures are bad, although thankfully not quite the disaster we saw at the end of last year.

"With one in three jobseekers looking for work for over a year, and around six unemployed people for every job, the Government's mantra that there are plenty of jobs out there just doesn't ring true.

"It's encouraging to see a small rise in employment, but this is entirely down to people taking part-time work because there are no full-time jobs available.

"Any job is better than no job at all, even if it's on far lower pay and shorter hours, but people cannot afford to do this indefinitely. We desperately need more full-time jobs paying decent wages."

Region / Total / Change / Unemployment

North East / 143,000 / minus 4,000 / 11.2%

North West / 319,000 / plus 26,000 /  9.3%

Yorkshire/Humber /  264,000 / minus 10,000 /  9.9%

East Midlands / 188,000 / plus 1,000 /  8.2%

West Midlands / 247,000 / plus 13,000 / 9.3%

East / 213,000 / plus 3,000 / 7.0%

London / 427,000  / plus 18,000 / 10.0%

South East /  278,000 /  plus 2,000 /  6.3%

South West / 165,000  / minus 13,000 / 6.1%

Wales / 134,000  / minus 3,000 /  9.0%

Scotland /  231,000  / plus 16,000 /  8.6%

Northern Ireland / 62,000 /  no change /  7.2%