The apparently contradictory findings have come about due to a rise in those classed as “economically inactive” because they are studying, on long-term sick leave or have given up looking for a job.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the employment body, say that the fall in employment and rise in “economic activity” is largely explained by a surge in the number of students, as more people opt to sit the downturn out and get better qualified at the same time.
“Jobless young people are thus turning to study in their thousands to avoid the dole,” the CIPD said.
Total unemployment stood at 2.45m and the drop represented the biggest fall since 1997, according to the figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
But 8.16m people – a record 21.5 per cent of the working population – are not working while not officially jobless. Meanwhile, long-term unemployment – those out of work for more than a year – rose by 61,000 to 687,000.
Shadow secretary of state for work and pensions Theresa May, said: “Any fall in the headline unemployment figures is welcome, but the figures are still real cause for concern. With fewer people in work and fewer jobs in the economy there is now a real fear of a jobless recovery under Labour.”
Unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds fell by 34,000 to 715,000, but for over-50s, rose by 14,000 to 398,000.
Trevor Matthews, chief executive of Friends Provident, whose report Visions of Britain 2010 identified the problem of those excluded from work, said the figures showing a fall in unemployment blurred the real picture. Matthews said: “Today’s unemployment figures are not all good news. Whilst overall unemployment has continued to fall, the long-term unemployed, those out of work for more than a year, has increased by 61,000 in the last three months.”