Unemployment Falls For Second Month Running
UK unemployment fell for the second consecutive month in the three months to March to reach 2.63 million, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the number of people out of work fell by 45,000 between January and March, taking the joblessness rate to 8.2%.
It was the fastest fall in unemployment in nearly a year, beating forecasts for no change in the 8.3% rate between December and February.
The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance also fell unexpectedly by 13,700 in April, to reach 1.59 million. It was the largest drop since July 2010.
The improvement comes despite the UK slipping back into recession in the first quarter of the year, stoking fears unemployment would grow at a time when the government is relying on private firms to make up for public sector job losses as part of its austerity plan.
Employment minister Chris Grayling told Sky News that the jobs situation was "moving in the right direction".
"This is clearly good news in the labour market but of course we are still living through difficult times and there are big issues to address, including the eurozone," he said.
With millions of people still out of work, unions said the Government's "gamblewith the economy" has failed.
The politically-sensitive number of young people without a job dipped to 1.02 million in the three months to March, taking the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds to 21.9%.
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.
John Salt, director at totaljobs.com, said the latest figures were proof that "not all that glitters is gold".
"The fall in unemployment barely dents the ranks of the jobless, whilst the number of under-employed - those forced into part-time work or self-employment - continues to grow relentlessly.
"There is simply not the consumer demand nor the business confidence that would prompt the private sector investment needed to offset previous job cuts," he said.
The ONS also revealed that 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 to a year ago.
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."