UK Unemployment Falls To 2.65 Million
UK unemployment fell for the first time in nearly a year in the three months to February to reach 2.65 million, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the number of people out of work fell by 35,000 between December and February, taking the joblessness rate to 8.3%, down from 8.4% the previous quarter.
It is the first quarterly fall in unemployment since the three months to May 2011.
The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance increased for the seventeenth month in a row in March, up by 3,600 to 1.61 million, the smallest monthly rise since last December.
But other figures from the ONS revealed a worse picture: the number of unemployed women increased by 8,000 in the latest quarter to 1.14 million, the highest figure for almost 25 years, while the number of people out of work for over a year jumped to its highest level since 1996.
The figures also showed an 89,000 rise in the number of people working part-time because they could not find full-time jobs, to a total of 1.4 million, the highest figure since records began in 1992.
Employment minister Chris Grayling said: "Today's figures are a step in the right direction but we still have a long way to go.
"I am particularly encouraged that overall employment is now growing despite reductions in the public sector.
"There are still economic challenges ahead and the Government is reacting by helping people to find employment through initiatives with the private sector at their heart."
The Government said that in the past month 160,000 incentives of £2,275 had become available to employers who take on young people in the Work Programme as part of the £1bn Youth Contract.
Joblessness among those aged 16 to 64 fell slightly over the last quarter, to reach 8.5%.
Stephen Oversby, of children's charity Barnardo's, said: "This is no time for complacency.
"Despite youth unemployment statistics having fallen, there remains more than a million 16-to-24-year-olds looking for but not finding work."
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny added: "We are far from out of the woods yet.
"By recklessly aborting the economic recovery under way in the UK in 2010, the Government has stopped 400,000 young workers getting a job."
The latest figures came as new research showed almost a million people will have been out of work for more than a year by the end of 2012.
The report by the IPPR think tank said long-term unemployment was the "hidden crisis" facing the UK economy.
They also follow a spate of job losses announced on Tuesday.
Almost 500 jobs are under threat after supermarket milk supplier Dairy Crest revealed plans to close two dairies.
On the same day, Aquascutum, the 160-year-old British clothing retailer which has dressed Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother, collapsed into administration, jeopardising 250 jobs.
Meanwhile, the ONS said average earnings increased by 1.1% in the year to February, down by 0.2 percentage points from the previous month to the lowest since the summer of 2010.
Average weekly pay in private firms is £459, compared with £477 in the public sector.
There were 1.4 million working days lost through strikes in the year to February, the highest total since 2002, largely as a result of last November's walkout by public sector workers in the row over pensions.