Unemployment fails to breach two million

By politics.co.uk staff

Unemployment in Britain rose to 1.97 million in the last three months of 2008, official statistics have shown.

There had been fears figures from the Office for National Statistics would see the number of jobless exceed two million for the first time since New Labour came to power.

The unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent is still the highest since 1998 following a host of high-profile lay-offs, the most recent being the announcement that 2,300 jobs were to be cut at Royal Bank of Scotland.

Employment minister Tony McNulty said the figures were “very disappointing” but warned they did not represent the nadir of the jobs market.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May, said: “These figures are devastating confirmation of just how serious this recession is for millions of families across the country.

“Unfortunately all we are getting from the government at the moment is a series of announcements on employment that are more spin than substance, and are just designed to cover up the fact that Gordon Brown’s recession policies are not working.”

The figures, which come ahead of an employment summit chaired by the prime minister, showed the number of jobless people rose by 146,000 in the last three months of last year, while a further 73,800 began taking jobseekers’ allowance, taking the total to 1.23 million.

According to the TUC, Britain’s unemployment rate is now rising at the fastest rate across the European Union.

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

“British workers are among the easiest and cheapest to lay off in Europe – and when they find themselves out of work they get some of the poorest treatment.”