UK unemployment rises for first time since mid-2015

UK unemployment rose by 21,000 to 1.7 million between December and February, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says. This is the first rise since the May-July period of last year.

The number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits increased by 6,700 in March to 732,100, the first monthly rise since last August.

The overall unemployment rate remained at 5.1 per cent, which is still down on the same time last year, when it was 5.6 per cent.

“It’s too soon to be certain, but with unemployment up for the first time since mid-2015 – and employment seeing its slowest rise since that period – it’s possible that recent improvements in the labour market may be easing off,” ONS statistician Nick Palmer said.

In a further blow to the government’s efforts to keep the economy growing strongly, wage growth including bonuses fell from 2.1 per cent in January to 1.8 per cent. The measure of wages excluding bonuses remained at 2.2 per cent.

Analysts blamed a fall in City bonuses at the end of the financial year for much of the drop.

The Bank of England watches for signs of stronger pay growth as it considers when to raise interest rates from their record low. Most economists expect no increase until next year.

Almost a third of the increase in jobs over the last year have been among the self-employed, the Office for National Statistics said. The rise in employment was 262,000 to 26.56 million compared with an increase of 120,000 in self-employment to 4.64 million.

There were 14.6 million women in work, down by 40,000 on the previous three months and the first fall since the autumn of 2012.

In contrast, male employment was almost 16.8 million, the highest since records began in 1971.

There were 8.8 million people classed as economically inactive, including those on long- term sick leave, looking after a relative or who have given up looking for work – 121,000 fewer than a year ago and the lowest since mid-2003.