The last set of official labour market statistics before the general election contains a “mix of good and bad news”, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
The figures, released this morning, show that the number of unemployed people increased by 43,000 in the three months to February to reach 2.5 million – the highest figure since December 1994.
But the statistics also showed that the number of Britons claiming unemployment benefit fell three times faster than expected in March.
John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the CIPD, said that since the figures provide all three main UK political parties with something to seize on, they are unlikely to prove a ‘game changer’ at the polls.
“Labour can highlight a welcome further fall of almost 33,000 in March in the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance. They can also claim that the 2.5 million headline unemployment figure is around half a million lower than most forecasters had expected this time last year, and is vindication of the government’s approach to supporting the economy through the recession and its intention to keep spending to stimulate the economy in 2010-11,” he said.
“But the opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties can point to yet another quarterly fall, of 89,000, in the number of people in work, an increase to 1.046 million in the number of people working part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs, and a quarterly 89,000 rise in the number of people unemployed for more than a year; taking the long-term jobless total to 726,000.”
Philpott warned that whoever is responsible for economic and employment policy in the next few years “will struggle to combine the task of reducing the fiscal deficit with that of returning the UK economy to full employment any time soon”. The warning came in the week he predicted that the public sector could lose 500,000 jobs over the next five years as the next government gets to grip with the deficit.
Nigel Meager, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said that the next government needs to address employment as a matter of “urgent priority”.
“Following this year’s general election, whichever party takes office will be faced with a range of pressing policy issues on all fronts,” he said. “However, high unemployment, the changing demands for skills, and the need to increase productivity and to reduce expenditure on welfare mean that policies relating to employment and skills will be among the most important.”