Unemployment drops to 2.6 million

The ONS has reported a fall in UK unemployment: down 51,000 to 2.61 million in the first quarter. Break out the Bolly.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Inflation is falling. The eurozone storm is abating. And now, UK unemployment has tumbled too. Dare we hope that the UK economy is getting back on track?

According to the ONS, the number of full-time workers in the UK increased over the three months to April by 82,000 to reach 21.32 million. The number of part- time workers is up too, jumping 83,000 to reach 7.97 million. At 165,000, this net rise in UK employment is the largest increase since Q2 in 2010, and one of the strongest on record.

And we’re not just slaving away for pennies either. There has been a marked increase in pay rates over the quarter, with average employee earnings rising 1.8% on a year ago, the highest rate since December. And although pay growth is still trailing behind inflation, the squeeze has eased, with pay is now falling 1% in real terms (after adjusting for the new inflation rate), compared to the peak rate of decline of 3.4% seen last September. This can only be good news on the consumer spending front – we’re all a smidgeon less poor, at least.

The healthy labour market growth puts the latest jobless rate at 8.2%, down from 8.3% in the final quarter of last year. The Coalition will be pleased. Not only is unemployment plummeting, there’s evidence that the private sector is finally starting to pick up public sector’s slack: the number of people employed in the private sector has increased by 205,000 to reach 23.38 million, while the number of people employed in the public sector fell by just 39,000 to reach 5.9 million.

That 5.9 million public sector employment rate is the lowest since March 2003. Over the past two and a half years, the government payroll has fallen by some 454,000….

But it's not all good news. The number of people (excluding unpaid family workers and government-supported trainees) who are working part-time because they cannot find a full-time job is rising. There are 25,000 more people making do on reduced hours on the quarter, pushing the total up to 1.41 million. And, from an economic point of view, the improved employment figures don’t mean much: the claimant count - the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance – has increased by 8,100 in May compared with April. That’s the first rise since February.

However, at least 2012 is looking like a bumper year for budding entrepreneurs. The number of self-employed people has increased by 84,000 over the quarter to reach 4.17 million, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992. This ‘can’t get a job, create one’ strategy is just what the economy needs to shake off recession. But can growth hold out through Q2? MT wouldn’t bet its job on it...

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