UK unemployment falls by 35,000 to 2.65m, ONS reports
UK unemployment has registered its first fall since last spring, according to official figures.
Unemployment fell by 35,000 to 2.65 million over the December-to-February period, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The unemployment rate edged down from a 12-year high of 8.4% to 8.3%, the lowest level since the summer of last year.
The claimant count rose by 3,600 in March to 1.61 million.
That is the highest total since October 2009, according to the ONS.
"If you look at the longer-term picture, unemployment rose quite strongly during the summer of last year, then the increases tailed off a bit towards the end of the year," Nick Palmer from the ONS told BBC News.
"So despite this latest decrease, the level of unemployment is significantly higher than it was a year ago, in fact it is some 170,000 higher than it was at the same point a year ago," he said.Continue reading the main story Part-time concerns
The ONS data showed that the number of people having to settle for part-time work because they can't find full-time jobs has risen 89,000 to 1.4 million, its highest level since records began in 1992.
That trend is a concern to the TUC, whose general secretary Brendan Barber said: "While any rise in the number of jobs is welcome, the fact is that full-time employment is still falling and a record [number] are now stuck in involuntary part-time work."
But Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: "One of the things we are seeing is more people coming back into the workplace.
"Some of those moving into part-time work we know are women who either have got children and are coming back into part-time work because they are at school, or who are older and the children are grown-up and are coming back into part-time jobs.
"There are more of those in the workforce today than there were a few months ago," he said.
In an interview with the BBC, Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, expressed his concern over those who have been unemployed for at least a year: "The number of people long-term unemployed is now up about 50% on the year.
"What that shows is that the jobs crisis is becoming deep-set and that's a real worry because it makes the challenge of getting our country back to work harder and harder still.
"I'm afraid it's now become very, very clear that the Budget has done nothing to move the needle on creating growth or getting people back into jobs," he said.'Underemployment'
The latest report contained some encouraging news for younger jobseekers, with the number of unemployed 16-24 year-olds falling to 1.03 million.
However, the rate of youth unemployment, at 22.2%, remains high.
At the other end of the age scale, the Age UK charity pointed out that older women were increasingly prone to joblessness.
"The number of unemployed women aged between 50 and 64 has risen by 27% since this time last year - a significantly bigger increase than any other age group," said Age UK's director general Michelle Mitchell.
The latest report shows that prospects for employment differ across the UK:
- In Scotland, there was a sharp fall in unemployment. Over the three months to the end of February the jobless total fell by 12,000 and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1%
- In Wales, unemployment fell by 1,000. The rate stands at 8.9%
- In Northern Ireland, the rate was unchanged at 6.8%
Within the English regions the picture is also very varied:
- The North East saw unemployment fall by 9,000, but the region still has the highest rate in England, of 11.2%
- The South East recorded a fall in the jobless total of 2,000. It has the lowest rate in England, of 6.3%
Across the UK, average earnings rose by 1.1% in the year to February, the slowest pace since the summer of 2010.
Mike Fetters, director at jobs website Totaljobs.com, said: "Today's figures flatter to deceive.
"Whilst on the surface they look rosier than those of the past few months, they hide a number of concerns - not least the staggeringly high levels of underemployment.
"We have seen the retail sector take another battering, with more closures announced, and concerns for the eurozone have resurfaced."