Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 12:34 UK

UK jobless total in new increase

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

The number of people out of work in the UK rose by another 177,000 to 2.1 million between December and February.

The number of people claiming jobless benefits rose a smaller than expected 73,700 last month to 1.46 million.

The annual rate of growth in average earnings was 0.1% in the three months to February, down from 1.7% previously.

The unemployment rate was 6.7% for the three months to February, up from 6.1% the previous quarter, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

"Obviously in the claimant count there is a significantly smaller rise, but we certainly can't say that this represents any turnaround. It's far too early for that," said Ross Walker from RBS Financial Markets.

'Collapse in earnings'

The level of growth in average earnings was the lowest since records began in 1991, and was mainly due to the drop in bonuses in the financial sector, according to the ONS.

"The headline grabber there is the collapse in average earnings [growth]. We all thought if would fall significantly, but it has fallen much much, more sharply," Mr Walker added.

Workers in the private sector saw their wages fall by 0.5% in the three months to February, a move one economist described as "extraordinary".

Sadly, these appalling unemployment figures will get much, much worse before they get better
Alan Tomlinson, insolvency practitioner

"Bonuses have virtually died a death in the private sector this year as employers cut costs and staff try to hold onto their jobs," said John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

"Add the arrival of price deflation into the mix and the chances are that growth in regular pay will also show signs of a further marked slump in the coming months."

'Appalling' figures

There were 462,000 job vacancies in the first three months of the year, which was down 68,000 from the previous quarter and the lowest figure since records began in 2001.

"Sadly, these appalling unemployment figures will get much, much worse before they get better. There's still a lot of pain in the pipeline," said Alan Tomlinson, from the insolvency practitioners Tomlinsons.

"The impact of the recession on smaller businesses is especially severe. Company failures in this vital sector are still increasing and are likely to do so for some time yet, putting more and more people out of work."

Shadow work and pensions secretary, Theresa May, said: "Labour have reached another grim milestone with unemployment now higher than when they came to power.

"This government are sleepwalking through this unemployment crisis recklessly casting millions of people adrift."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Commons that the government would do "everything we can" to help those who had lost their jobs return to work.

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