Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

UK jobless total at 1.97 million

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UK unemployment rose to 1.97 million between October and December, the highest level since 1997, figures show.

The jobless number climbed 146,000 for the three-month period, data from the Office for National Statistics showed.

For January, the number of those getting jobseeker's allowance added 73,800 to reach 1.23 million.

The unemployment rate hit 6.3%, the highest since 1998, and comes as The Bank of England recently warned of a "deep recession" for 2009.

Many analysts had forecast that unemployment could reach two million for the three-month period - which would have been the highest since 1997.

But there are fears the situation will worsen further in the months ahead as the economy cools.

Tony Dolphin, senior economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research said: "Unfortunately it seems inevitable that unemployment will exceed 3 million during 2009".

As the recession bites, this strengthens still further the case for making a sharp reduction in the number of non-EU workers permitted to come to Britain
Sir Andrew Green, Migration Watch

Peter Mooney, head of consultancy with Employment Law Advisory Services, said: "From early in December, the number of firms seeking our help in making redundancies simply exploded."

He added: "Things will certainly get worse before they get better. We would expect to see another significant increase in the number of people out of work in the figures published next month, as many more firms were forced to cut staff early in the New Year."

Young people between the age of 18 and 24 have been particularly hard hit, with the unemployment rate for the three-month period standing at 11.8%.

The number of those receiving jobseeker's allowance has now climbed for 12 consecutive months. At 1.23 million, it stands at the highest level since the summer of 1999.

Apprenticeships

Following the release of the data, David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, commented: "Unemployment continues to rise in the face of a worsening recession.

"We know businesses do not want to lose key staff, but they are struggling with cash-flow."

Mr Kern added that cutting business rates, freezing the national minimum wage and scrapping plans to increase National Insurance would help firms retain employees.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is meeting business leaders later to discuss how to help.

We know businesses do not want to lose key staff, but they are struggling with cash-flow
David Kern, chief economist, British Chambers of Commerce

Executives from Sainsbury's, the Royal Mail, Whitbread, Centrica, National Express and Travelodge are expected to attend Downing Street for the first meeting of the National Employment Partnership.

The companies, as well as NHS and local authority leaders, will agree to advertise all non-specialist vacancies through the Jobcentre Plus network and to start offering more apprenticeships.

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A local employment partnership scheme has been launched to get people back into work.

Councillor Margaret Eaton, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "The LGA has committed to working with local authorities to increase the number of council apprenticeships by 7,500 to ensure that people are given practical skills that will stand them in good stead for years to come."

Redundancies mounting

BBC business correspondent Nils Blythe says figures on the wider measure of unemployment - which also includes people not claiming benefits - only cover the three months up to December, so do not include the most recent job losses.

However, our correspondent says the total is expected to rise above two million once the latest redundancy programmes are captured in official statistics.

The sector with the largest fall in jobs was finance and business services, which shed 72,000 positions.

As employers seek to cut costs, the number of jobs available falls.

Vacancies for the three-month period fell to 504,000, down 76,000 from the period to October. In the same period a year earlier, vacancies had been 684,000.

A TUC study said that while unemployment in the UK was lower than the European average, it was now increasing twice as fast as the average across Europe.

The UK's unemployment rate remains below the European average, which is 7.7%.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The UK began the global recession with a relatively strong jobs position, but our advantage is beginning to disappear as redundancies mount."

In the Bank of England's latest forecast for economic growth and inflation, it said the UK economy would contract sharply in the first half of the year.

UK unemployment



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