Unemployment fall 'welcome news'


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The Government today welcomed a fall in unemployment and the number of dole claimants but admitted there were too many people in part-time jobs who wanted full-time work.

The jobless total fell by 45,000 to 2.6 million in the quarter to March, the lowest since last summer, while the number on jobseeker's allowance last month was down by 13,700 to 1.59 million.

The number of people in work increased by 105,000 to almost 30 million, but this was entirely due to a rise in part-time workers.

Almost eight million people are now in a part-time job, the highest since records began in 1992, while those working part-time because they cannot find full-time work increased by 73,000 to a record high of 1.4 million.

Self-employment has also reached a record figure of 4.1 million, up by 89,000 since the previous quarter.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the unemployment figures were "welcome" news but that the Government was "not remotely complacent", telling the Commons: "It's welcome that we have had the largest rise in employment for over a year, the number of people in work since the last election is up by 370,000, private sector jobs are up by 600,000.

"We are not remotely complacent about this because although there is good news about youth unemployment and the claimant count coming down, there is still too many people in part-time work who want full-time work, and also we still have the challenge of tackling long-term unemployment."

The 13,700 fall in the so-called claimant count last month was the biggest since July 2010.

But other figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of people unemployed for more than a year increased by 27,000 to 887,000, the worst total since 1996.

In the three months to March, a third of all unemployed people had been out of work for more than a year.

The number of people unemployed for more than two years rose by 5,000 to 428,000.

Average earnings increased by 0.6% in the year to March, down by 0.5 percentage points on the previous month because of lower bonuses in the private sector.

Average weekly pay in private firms in March was £2 lower at £460 compared with a year ago.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "The Chancellor has created a part-time, low-pay Britain with his austerity programme - a political path that is increasingly being rejected by other European countries, France being the most prominent example."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The collapse in wages is terrible news for those in work and threatens our chances of an economic recovery.

"The falling number of full-time jobs and the 6% fall in real wages over the last two years means that people are having to make huge salary sacrifices and put their careers on hold just to stay in work."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "With the eurozone crisis worsening and economic pressures facing the UK, these figures are encouraging, but there are still some worrying features."

Katja Hall, the CBI's chief policy director, said: "The fall in the official unemployment data for a second month running is good news, especially given the troubling economic outlook, and shows employers are feeling more confident about hiring.

"While it is encouraging that people are finding work, the increase in long-term unemployment is a concern."

John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "These are odd figures, best explained by a surge in part-time odd-jobbing.

"While a weak double-dip labour market might be able to sustain enough odd-jobbing to prevent unemployment hitting the three million mark, the combination of a growing army of underemployed odd-jobbers, 2.63 million people unemployed and pay rises still lagging well behind price inflation suggests that the underlying employment situation is worse than at any point in at least the past two decades."

The Government pointed out that fewer than one in five of those in part-time work say it's because they can't get full-time work, while Timewise Jobs, an online jobsite specialising in part-time work, said the number of people who want part-time rather than full-time work was increasing.

Unemployment in the regions between January to March was:

Region; Total unemployed; Change on quarter; Unemployment rate

North East; 148,000; plus 6,000; 11.5 per cent

North West; 329,000; plus 11,000; 9.6 per cent

Yorkshire/Humber; 241,000; minus 24,000; 9 per cent

East Midlands; 182,000; minus 6,000; 7.8 per cent

West Midlands; 228,000; minus 19,000; 8.5 per cent

East; 207,000; minus 6,000; 6.7 per cent

London; 426,000; minus 1,000; 10.1 per cent

South East; 279,000; plus 1,000; 6.2 per cent

South West; 175,000 plus; 10,000; 6.5 per cent

Wales; 132,000; minus 1,000; 9 per cent

Scotland; 221,000; minus 10,000; 8.2 per cent

N Ireland; 57,000; minus 5,000; 6.7 per cent