The number of unemployed people in the UK has fallen for the first time since spring 2011, according to figures released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The ONS figures show that in the period from December 2011 to February 2012 the unemployment rate fell by 35,000, which is a 0.1 percentage point reduction on the previous quarter to 8.3%, or 2.65 million people.
During the same period, the employment rate for people aged between 16 and 64 rose by 53,000, a 0.1 percentage point increase to 70.4%. This means that there were 29.17 million people in employment during the quarter.
However, the ONS figures also point to increases in the number of people working part time because they are unable to find full-time work. The number of part-time workers increased by 80,000 on the quarter to reach 7.94 million, but the number of full-time workers fell by 27,000 to 21.23 million.
In addition, the ONS said that the number of employees and self-employed people who were working part time because they could not find a full-time job had increased by 89,000 on the quarter, to reach 1.40 million, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992.
The figures also highlight continued contrasting fortunes for men and women in the labour market. The number of unemployed men fell by 43,000 to 1.51 million, but the number of unemployed women increased by 8,000 to 1.14 million, the highest figure since the three months to November 1987.
The number of people unemployed for up to 12 months fell by 61,000 on the quarter, to 1.77 million, but the number of people unemployed for more than 12 months increased by 26,000 to reach 883,000, the highest figure since the three months to September 1996.
There was some positive news for younger jobseekers as the number of unemployed 16- to 24-year-olds fell by around 9,000 to 1.03 million. The overall level of youth unemployment remains high, however, at 22.2%.
David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said that, despite the positives highlighted in today’s figures, more needed to be done in order to stimulate private-sector jobs growth. He commented: “Although the rise in employment is welcome, we can’t ignore the fact that part-time jobs have risen while the number of full-time jobs has fallen. The overall message from these figures is encouraging, however, as they show the ability and willingness of the private sector to drive recovery at a time when the public sector is likely to shrink further.
“But the challenges facing the labour market cannot be overlooked. As the deficit-cutting plan forces the Government to reduce employment, it is likely that the unemployment total will increase over the next year. Every effort must be made to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses and increase the flow of lending to credit-worthy firms so the private sector can create new jobs.”
Andrew Sissons, researcher at The Work Foundation, said that the positive figures masked a “part-time recovery”.
“The slight drop in unemployment is an encouraging sign after many months of turmoil in the labour market. However, these figures make it clear that the improvement is being driven by an increasingly part-time recovery. The economy actually shed full-time jobs over the last three months. There are now 1.4 million people in part-time work who would prefer a full-time job, which is the highest level since records began,” he said.
“There are some good signs about the underlying health of the labour market: there has been a shift away from self-employment and there has been a recovery in hours worked, which suggests some workers may be finding more work and greater job security. However, men have seen most of the benefits from job creation, with women struggling in the last three months. The fall in youth unemployment should offer little encouragement – employment amongst young people has continued to fall, and the small fall in unemployment is down to a rise in inactivity.
“Going forward, we are unlikely to see any significant improvements in unemployment until the labour market becomes much stronger. This depends on solid economic growth, with increases in full-time work and hours worked. The outlook for both remains uncertain, and these priorities should remain top of the Government’s agenda.”