Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Unemployment passes two million


Owen Bednall lost his job at the BMW plant in Cowley in mid-February

UK unemployment has risen above two million for the first time since 1997, official figures have shown.

During the three months to January, the number of people unemployed totalled 2.03 million, up by 165,000, said the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

For February, the number of people getting jobseeker's allowance added a record 138,400 to reach 1.39 million.

There are now 10 jobseekers for every vacancy advertised in UK jobcentres, the TUC claimed earlier this week.

The ONS added that the unemployment rate jumped to 6.5% between November and January.

'Everything we can'

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% of population claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, by parliamentary constituency. Source: ONS

Unemployment is rising as the first recession in the UK since 1991 continues to bite. Many economists now predict it will go above three million next year.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Commons it was a "matter of personal regret" for him that people were losing their jobs.

"That is why we'll do everything we can to help people get back to work," he said.

Mr Brown added that rising unemployment was a global problem which remained higher in many other countries.

Conservative leader David Cameron countered that the Labour government was to blame for the rise in unemployment.

"You've led us to this point without the hint of an apology and the British people will never forget it," he said.

'Unemployment milestone'

"This is another milestone in the return of mass unemployment to the UK, and it will get worse before it gets better as unemployment always persists even after a recovery starts," said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.


And some handy tips on getting a job in a recession
Check out the BBC jobs tracker to find out which companies are hiring and firing
Also read our report on the contrasting fortunes of Oldham - where there are 30 people chasing each vacancy - and Chester where businesses struggle to fill jobs.

Turning his attention to next month's G20 meeting in London, Mr Barber added that it was now imperative that world leaders work together to help stimulate the global economy.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the government should now "seriously consider" temporary wage subsidies.

The ONS figures showed that it is the private sector that is seeing the rise in unemployment.

They showed that in December 2008, the number of people in private sector employment was 23.6 million, down 13,000 from September 2008.

Over the same period, the number of people with public sector jobs rose 15,000 to 5.78 million.

The ONS added that average earnings, including bonuses, rose only 1.8% in the year to January, the lowest annual rise since records began in 1991.

Business warnings

Separate reports by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and CBI have both predicted that UK unemployment will rise above three million in 2010.

I lost my job one week before Christmas. I was two months away from completing my probationary period
Jo, Horsham

The BCC said the UK economy had worsened "significantly" so far in 2009, and said unemployment will hit 3.2 million next year, slightly more than 10% of the workforce.

Alan Tomlinson, an accountant who guides firms through insolvency, said he had "never been so busy".

"Companies of all sizes and in all sectors are folding by the day, putting more and more people out of a job," he said.

"The CBI's prediction, last month, that unemployment will peak at just over three million in the second quarter of 2010 could prove to be wildly optimistic."

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The Economist A flood of misery - 11 hrs ago
Daily Express Two million unemployed - but migrants still queue - 15 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Record rise in Britain's jobless - 23 hrs ago
Telegraph Unemployment hits two million but public sector sheltered - 25 hrs ago
The Sun Labour isn't working ... for 2m - 27 hrs ago

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