United Kingdom dole queues getting longer

LONDON: Unemployment in Britain has risen to its highest level since 1996 and vacancies have reached a record low as firms slash jobs in an attempt to cut costs.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Thursday that unemployment rose by 232,000 in the three months to April to almost 2.3 million.

The ONS said 39,300 people joined the dole queue in May, taking the number claiming jobseeker’s allowance unemployment benefit to just over 1.5 million. That was the smallest increase for 10 months and smaller than the 60,000 rise predicted, but economists said the rest of the news from the labour market was still grim.

The number of people in work fell by 271,000 in the three months to April to 29.1 million — the biggest quarterly slump since comparable records began in 1971.

More than 300,000 people were made redundant over those three months — an increase of 36,000 on the previous quarter and the highest total since records began

in 1995. Vacancies fell by 38,000 in the quarter to April to a record low of 444,000.

Opposition parties seized on the figures to criticise Labour’s record.

Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “The sad reality is the government is continuing to sleepwalk through this unemployment crisis. There has been a distinct absence of any real leadership in the department and it’s disgraceful that we’ve had four work and pensions secretaries in less than two years.”

Yvette Cooper, the work and pensions secretary, defended the government. “The figures show the number of new claimants has fallen for the last two months, but many people are still facing significant difficulties and we are determined to provide more help,” she said.

Younger people are suffering particularly badly in the recession and yesterday’s figures revealed that the unemployment rate for 18-24-year-olds was 16.6 per cent.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC [UK unions’ umbrella organisation], said: “Youth unemployment is now at its highest rate for 15 years. And it will get far worse when millions of fresh school-leavers and graduates start looking for work in the coming weeks. The government must do all it can to stop joblessness blighting another generation’s lives.”

John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said the unemployment figures were “amazingly good, given what we know about the state of the jobs market ... The recorded quarterly fall in employment and rise in unemployment still ranks amongst the worst seen in the post-war era.”

As unemployment continues to increase, research by the London-based Institute for Public Policy Research on Wednesday showed that frontline services provided by Jobcentre Plus to people losing their jobs in the recession were “badly stretched”.

Personal advisers in job centres are carrying out twice as many interviews with benefit claimants as before the recession, but only 600 extra staff have been recruited instead of the 3,000 needed to cope with the current influx of new job seekers, says the report.