Unemployment rate hits nine-year high

The unemployment rate has grown to its highest in almost a decade, official figures have revealed.

The number of people out of work grew to 1.86 million in the three months to October 2008 – up 137,000 from the three months to July 2008, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown.

The unemployment rate was 6% for the first time since June-August 1999, up 0.4% percentage points from the three months to July, and up 0.7 percentage points year on year.

The working-age employment rate was 74%, down 0.4 percentage points from the previous quarter. Some 238,000 more people are unemployed compared to October last year. The number of long-term unemployed people (those out of work for more than 12 months) rose to 438,000, up 7,000 from the three months to July 2008.

Unions have called on the government to provide further support for those already out of work. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber predicted ahead of the figures today that two million people would be unemployed by Christmas. While the official figure showed there is still some way to go before unemployment reaches the two million mark, Barber called on the government to offer more support to get people back to work.

He said: “As well as more support to get back into work, unemployed people need more immediate financial support to help them cope with life on the dole.”

The ONS figures also revealed the claimant count was 1.07 million – up 75,700 from the previous month.

The TUC has urged the government to increase Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) from £60.50 to £75 a week, bringing it back into line with its value in 1997.

Barber said: “Many people losing their jobs for the first time will be shocked to find that JSA is less than £10 a day.”

Former Conservative prime minister John Major warned earlier this week unemployment would rise steeply in January 2009.

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