UK unemployment at highest level since 2002

The rate of unemployment has risen to its highest level since 2002, official figures reveal.

The unemployment rate was 5.2% in the three months to March, up 0.1% on the previous quarter and the highest since November 2002, the Office for National Statistics announced today.

The number of people out of work hit nearly 1.6 million between January and March, up 44,000 over the quarter and 177,000 over the 12-month period.

Meanwhile, the number of people claiming unemployment benefit also continued to rise to its highest level for nearly three years, up 7,700 in April to 945,500.

It was the highest number of people on jobseeker’s allowance since June 2003 and means that the number has risen for 13 of the last 14 months. That is the longest period of increases since the UK emerged from recession in 1992.

The steady creep of the unemployment figures towards the one million mark is disappointing, but should not be any cause for alarm, according to John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

“Employers did not respond to last year’s slight slowing of the economy with job cuts. Fears over difficulties in recruiting again once they knew which way the wind was blowing played a large part in their hesitations. Now confidence is returning, employers are responding by trying to raise productivity of the existing workforce, and balancing new recruitment with redundancies elsewhere in the business.”

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