Unemployment hits new high

More than 2.5 million people are now out of work, as unemployment shot to its highest level in 15 years in the three months to February.

This is a rise of 43,000 over the quarter  and sent the unemployment rate soaring up to 8%, according to the Office for National Statistics. The number of 'inactive' people in the UK – those that are not working because they are ill, studying or caring, hit a record high of 8.16 million after rising by 110,000 in the quarter.

However, economists also pointed out positive elements within the data. The number of people claiming unemployment benefit fell by a much larger than expected 32,900 in March to 1.54 million.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, says: “The mixed latest data reinforces our belief that it's premature to call the all-clear on the jobs front, despite recently improved economic activity and the overall resilience of the labour market through the economy's travails.

“Indeed, we suspect the labour market may well be somewhat erratic in the near term at least, with some months of unemployment gains and some of losses. In the near term at least, many firms are likely to meet any increase in business through making greater use of the workers they have already, and they are likely to be reluctant to take on any more staff until they are really convinced that sustained improvement in business is likely.”