The Chancellor, George Osborne, might have chosen a better day to deliver his fourth Budget statement to Parliament. For months now, each set of official labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown falling unemployment. On the morning of Budget day, however, the news was less good - unemployment up by 7,000 in the three months to January.
The latest headline rise in unemployment is disappointing, although primarily due to a flood of women into the labour market at the turn of the year rather than weak employment growth (see headline figures below). On the contrary, the number of people in work again rose sharply, with a big rise in full-time employees more than offsetting a fall in part-time employment and self employment. Private-sector job creation continues to rise at a remarkable pace, while the loss of public-sector jobs has slowed from around 30,000 to 20,000 per quarter. Overall, job vacancies are up very slightly, redundancies down and, encouragingly, long-term unemployment is down. However, it's clear that people are experiencing real pay cuts to price themselves into work, and the rate of growth in weekly earnings is slowing yet again from 1.3% to 1.2% at a time when price inflation is on the rise.