Unemployment hits 16-year high

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, official figures revealed today.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the unemployment rate for the quarter was 8%, up 0.1% on the quarter, reaching the highest level since September 1996.

The number of people unemployed for up to six months fell by 46,000, to reach 1.22 million. However, the number of people unemployed for more than 12 months increased by 89,000 over the quarter to reach 726,000, the highest figure since July 1997.

The number of employees and self-employed people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job increased by 13,000 on the quarter to reach 1.05m, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992.

The number of inactive people of working age increased by 110,000 over the quarter, to reach a record high of 8.16 million, the ONS said. This increase was largely driven by the number of students not in the labour market, which increased by 71,000 on the quarter to reach 2.30 million.

The figures did contain some positive news, with the number of Britons claiming unemployment benefit falling three times faster than expected in March. The figure fell by 32,900 in the month after a revised fall of 40,100 in February, which was the sharpest drop since June 1997. Analysts had forecast a decline of 10,000 in March.

The number of vacancies for the three months to March 2010 was 475,000, up 9,000 over the quarter.

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