Unemployment dips but claimants surge

UNEMPLOYMENT has fallen slightly but the number of benefits claimants has gone up, official figures have shown.

Total unemployment stood at 2.46m for the three months to December, down 3,000 on the figure for the previous quarter.

The rate of unemployment was unchanged at 7.8 per cent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said yesterday.

However, the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance rose by 23,500 to 1.64m in January, the largest increase since July last year.

Analysts had been expecting a fall in the claimant count of 10,000.

Meanwhile, the figures showed that the number of 16 to 24 year-olds out of work fell over the three-month period between October and December, down from 936,000 to 923,000.

Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec, said: “The standout figure is the 23,500 increase in the claimant count, which calls into question the hypothesis that unemployment is falling.

“It is not clear as to why there is some increase, it may be that the overall trend is flat.

“That would be reasonably consistent with the [unemployment rate] numbers.”

Work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper said: “We always knew it would be difficult in the new year, and said that we expected unemployment to keep rising.”

In a separate figure the ONS said that underemployment has risen sharply. About 2.8m people were officially underemployed – defined as working fewer hours than they want to – between July and September 2009, which equates to nearly 10 per cent of those in employment.

The number rose by 700,000 from a year earlier.