Unemployment rose to almost 2.3 million over the past quarter – the highest since November 1996 – the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed.
The number of people out of work in the three months to April 2009 increased by 232,000 compared to the previous quarter, to reach 2.26 million. This figure is up 605,000 year-on-year. The jobless rate rose to 7.2%, up 0.7 percentage points from the three months to January 2009, and up 1.9 percentage points from a year earlier.
The working age employment rate was 73.3% in the three months to April 2009, down 0.8 percentage points on the three months to January 2009, and down 1.5 percentage points from a year earlier.
The total employment level was 29.1 million in the three months to April 2009, down 271,000 from the three months to January 2009 and down 399,000 on a year earlier.
The number of people claiming unemployment benefits rose by 39,300 in a month to 1.5 million in May, up 726,100 on a year earlier. The claimant count rate was 4.8%, and up 2.2 percentage points year-on-year.
In the three months to April 2009, average earnings, excluding bonuses, rose by 2.7% on a year earlier. This reflects the timing of bonus payments in the financial services sector, the ONS said.
Unemployment levels passed two million in January for the first time since 1997. Experts have predicted the total number of people out of work could hit more than three million by next year.
Stephen Gifford, chief economist at accountancy firm Grant Thornton, said the increase in unemployment was “despairing but not surprising”.
“The number out of work is predicted to rise to around three million by the middle of 2010, so today’s figures confirm that there is still a great deal of pain ahead, despite the signs that the economy may be stabilising,” he said.
Gifford echoed calls from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development last month, which urged the government to act to curb the rising number of young unemployed people.
“If this issue is not addressed now then we will be left with a dispossessed generation who could be permanently marked by the recession,” he said.