Employment in first drop since middle of 2011

Ben Southwood
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EMPLOYMENT fell for the first time since October 2011 in the three months ending February, official numbers showed yesterday.

The total number in work was 2,000 lower between December last year and February 2013 than it was in the previous three months, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Although the move represented a fall of just two thirds of a percentage point of the total, it broke a trend that saw 650,000 more in work, bringing employment to an all-time high of 29.75m in the last three months of 2012 – employment is now 53,000 below that peak.

February breaks run of cheery employment data

Meanwhile, the number counted as unemployed exploded 70,000 to 2.56m, as 57,000 people previously counted as economically inactive flooded into the labour market.

The lion’s share of this influx were housewives, the ONS said, with 45,000 fewer now measured economically inactive due to looking after the family or home. This brought the total number of women working at home to 2.06m, the lowest estimate ever recorded.

This went against the trend in the claimant count, which fell 5,300 in February and a further 7,000 in March, to reach 1.53m.

“After showing impressive resilience through 2012 despite GDP only edging up by 0.3 per cent, the labour market is currently showing increased signs of faltering,” said IHS Global Insight’s Howard Archer.

“The latest data reinforce our suspicion that unemployment will trend up gradually as 2013 progresses,” Archer added.

He pointed to public sector job cuts, and suggested private firms may begin letting more staff go if the economy fails to achieve a stronger and more sustained bout of expansion.

One more encouraging nugget within the data was the strength of women’s and full time employment. The employment droop came entirely from a 56,000 fall in men’s employment, balanced by a 54,000 jump in women’s. Equally, part-time employment for both genders fell 62,000, but full-time jobs were up 60,000.