Two million unemployed

The number of people out of work has exceeded the two million mark for the first time since 1997.

Unemployment leapt by 165,000 to reach 2.03 million between November 2008 and January 2009. And during the whole of 2008, a whopping 421,000 people became unemployed.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which compiles the data, says the unemployment rate and the claimant count have also increased, with the unemployment level and rate are at their highest level since 1997. At the same time, wage inflation has fallen.

February saw 1.39 million people claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, up 138,400 from the previous month and up 595,600 from February 2008. The ONS says the increase since January is the largest monthly increase since records began in 1971.

Charles Davis, an economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research, warns that the figures mean the number of people claiming unemployment benefits has surpassed monthly spikes seen in the early 1980s or 1990s recessions.
He adds: "These figures paint a stark picture of the significant deterioration in the UK labour market. We expected there to be especially sharp job cuts in the spring as firms assess their budgets for the year ahead so these changes are to an extent in line with expectations.

"However, the jump in the claimant count is worse than any month in recent recession, underlining the point that this is likely to be the toughest year for the UK economy in the post war era."