Jobs boost for ministers as unemployment falls

By staff

The largest three-month fall in unemployment since 2000 will help distract ministers from looming strikes over public sector job cuts.

Between February and April the unemployment rate fell by 0.3% to 7.7%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It found the total number of people out of work fell by 88,000 in the quarter, while the number of people who had been unemployed for over 12 months fell by 72,000 over the same period.

In a further boost for the coalition, the figures showed the chief beneficiaries of the good news were those aged between 16 and 24 – helping tacking the government's preoccupation with 'neets' (not in education, employment or training).

"This is the second month in a row we have had an improvement. It has got to be a step in the right direction," employment minister Chris Grayling said.

"At the moment the private sector is more than compensating for any losses in the public sector."

A planned walkout from up to 750,000 public sector staff later this month will challenge the looming job cuts caused by the government's spending cuts agenda.

The number of people claiming the jobseeker's allowance benefit increased in May 2011 to 1.49 million people, up 19,600.

But Chris Williamson, director of Markit, said the claimant count data may have been distorted by changes to benefits rules.

"The labour market looks to be on the mend," he said.

"We should not get too carried away with the good news, however, as there are persistent niggling worries that the recovery remains very fragile. In particular, job vacancies continued to fall – indicating that employers remain wary of taking on more staff in an uncertain economic climate."