Unemployment Claimant Count Rises Again

(Guardian) – GORDON BROWN’S EFFORTS to win the next general election received a blow today after official figures showed that the number of Britons claiming unemployment benefit rose unexpectedly in January to the highest level since Labour came to power.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) rose by 23,500 in January, compared with a fall of 9,600 in December. This is the largest monthly rise in the claimant count since last July, and takes the total number of people receiving unemployment benefit to 1.64 million, the highest figure since April 1997.

Economists had expected the claimant count to fall by 10,000 in January as the UK economy struggled out of recession, after falling in November and December.

The ILO – the wider measure of unemployment – fell by 3,000 in the three months to December to 2.457 million. The jobless rate now stands at 7.8%.

Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight, said the rise in the claimant count was a “reality check” that dashed any hopes that unemployment had peaked.

“The economy is just not strong enough at this stage to prevent further job losses and the fall in unemployment late in 2009 had masked the fact that full-time employment was still falling appreciably,” said Archer.

Ross Walker, an economist at RBS Financial Markets, agreed.

“The fact that the claimant count was falling in recent months was the huge surprise. The fact that we have got a rise is not particularly surprising. It seems to fit more with the underlying reality,” Walker said.

Yvette Cooper, the work and pensions secretary, said that the government’s actions have helped to keep the unemployment total almost half a million lower than the National Audit Office predicted last year.

“We always knew it would be difficult in the new year, and said that we expected unemployment to keep rising,” Cooper told the BBC.

Separately, the ONS said yesterday that underemployment has risen sharply during the recession, according to separate ONS figures.

About 2.8 million people were officially underemployed – defined as working fewer hours than they want to – between July and September 2009, which equates to nearly 10% of those in employment. The number went up by 700,000 from a year earlier. This is in addition to the 2.6 million out of a job.

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