unemploymentThe latest job figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that there are 2.56 million people unemployed in the UK, a rise of 70,000 between December and February.

As a result, the unemployment rate for the quarter was 7.9%, while the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance last month fell by 7,000 to 1.53 million.

According to the figures, the number of people in work fell by 2,000 in the latest quarter to February, the first time the figure has dipped since autumn 2011.

The ONS data also revealed that 900,000 people have been out of work for more than a year, an 8,000 increase on the three months to November 2012, while the number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds rose by 20,000 to 979,000.

Commenting on today’s figures, Mark Beatson, Chief Economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said:

“This month’s figures have seen the recent period of sustained employment growth come to an end.

“The number of people in employment is very marginally down on the previous three month period, with full-time employment increasing but part-time employment falling.  At the same time, with the population increasing and economic inactivity continuing to fall – which in itself is not a bad thing – this has led to a quite substantial increase in unemployment, up by 70,000 on the previous three month period.”

Beatson added:

“The question is whether this is a short term blip or whether a lack of demand means that the economy will struggle to create more jobs.

“Recent forward-looking indicators of recruitment intentions, including the CIPD’s Labour Market Outlook, remain positive. Nor have we seen any significant change in the number of redundancies. Hence, at this stage, it would be unwise to read too much into a single month’s figures.”

Mr Beatson concluded:

“Nevertheless, the statistics do remind us that jobs cannot be created forever without a growing economy to sustain demand. And it is certainly not a question of people pricing themselves out of jobs, as wages excluding bonuses are now growing by just 1% a year, the lowest figure since this data started to be collected in 2001.”

Nigel Meager, Director of the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), commented:

“Today’s data from the Office of National Statistics show that the long-awaited recovery in the UK labour market may still be some way off.

“Nearly all the headline indicators recorded little change; the recent employment growth seems to have fizzled out, and there is virtually no change in total hours worked in the economy, or in new vacancies recorded by employers. Although claimant count unemployment fell slightly, the broader official measure of unemployment increased by 70,000 over the previous quarter and still stands at 2.56 million.”

Meager continued:

“Much recent commentary has focused on the apparent resilience of the UK labour market, and the strong performance in total employment. It’s worth stressing though that the employment rate at 71% is still below its pre-recession level, and the recent jobs growth has been at the expense of a poor productivity performance, which may harm the UK’s longer-term growth prospects. Recent employment growth has relied heavily on under-employed part-timers, and precarious self-employment.

“Looking beyond these small month-to-month movements in the official statistics, the overall picture remains one of stagnation. Unemployment has been stuck at around 2.5 million for nearly four years, a million higher than pre-recession levels, and the employment rate has been stuck in the 70-71% range for a similar period. The stark fact is that although the labour market wasn’t hit as badly this time round as in previous recessions, it has taken much longer to recover, and the light at the end of the tunnel remains rather dim.”