UK unemployment hits 1.97 million

UK unemployment reached 1.97 million between October and December, up 146,000 on the previous quarter, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The independent research unit found unemployment rate reached 6.3%, the highest since 1998, as the UK economy weakens. Unemployment was up 1.1 percentage points from a year earlier, the ONS found.

For December, the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance rose by 73,800 to reach 1.23 million.

Business leaders are meeting prime minister Gordon Brown later today to discuss the government’s strategy on managing unemployment and increasing job creation through government subsidies, amid reports the scheme is in chaos.

News on unemployment is set to get worse as companies including Nissan, Microsoft, RBS and engineering group Cookson were among a range of companies to announce redundancies this year in the face of the economic slow down.

Employment trends were mixed in the industrial sector. There were 2.8 million employee jobs in manufacturing industries in the three months to December 2008, down 101,000 on a year earlier, the ONS found. Over the same period, employee jobs in mining, energy and water supply industries increased by 2,000 to reach 180,000.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The UK began the global recession with a relatively strong jobs position, but our advantage is beginning to disappear as redundancies mount. UK workers are among the easiest and cheapest to lay off in Europe – and when they find themselves out of work they get some of the poorest treatment.

“We now see the flip side of the poor protection for UK workers that the government lauds as a flexible labour market. No doubt we will be told that this means that we will be able to recover more quickly when the recession eases, but while this may be true for some relatively low-skilled jobs, employers will find it hard to put back together skilled teams that really create the wealth which will drive recovery.”

Better treatment for those who find themselves unemployed is also vital, according to the TUC. It said the government should give greater powers to the Jobcentre Plus Rapid Response Service so that employers cannot block support for those facing redundancy.

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