UK unemployment falls to 1.9 million

The number of people out of work in the UK fell by 58,000 to 1.91 million, its lowest level for more than six years, in the three months to November, official figures indicate.

The unemployment rate now stands at 5.8% of the adult working population, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

In total, there are now 30.8 million people in work.

The ONS said wage growth had also continued to outpace inflation.

In the September to November period, average earnings excluding bonuses were up 1.8% from a year earlier. Including bonuses, earnings rose by 1.7%.

It is the second consecutive month that both measures of earnings growth have been above the inflation rate.

Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, stood at 1% in November and then fell to 0.5% in December as global oil prices tumbled further.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in December fell by 29,700 to 867,000, the 26th consecutive monthly reduction, said the ONS.

However, there were signs that growth in employment is slowing, with the fall in unemployment its smallest since the three months to September 2013.

The number of jobless 16 to 24-year-olds also increased by 30,000 to 764,000 – the first quarterly rise since June to August 2013.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the figures suggested the UK economy might be gradually slowing.

“The modest upturn in average earnings growth is a positive development. However, wage growth will only be sustainable if it is matched by increased productivity. The focus of economic policy must remain on sustaining and improving economic growth,” he added.

And IHS Global Insight chief European & UK economist Howard Archer said the rate of improvement could have now peaked.

“We expect unemployment to fall appreciably further during 2015, but likely at a modestly reduced rate compared to the overall drop seen in 2014,” he said.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said the fall in unemployment, showed the UK’s wider economic recovery was on track.

“With earnings continuing to outstrip inflation, the benefits of the recovery are starting to flow into people’s wage packets,” he added.

However, Business Secretary Vince Cable warned there was “more to be done”.

“Youth unemployment remains too high. That is why we will continue to encourage firms to invest in the UK and equip British workers with the skills they need to compete in the jobs market,” he added.

Rate vote

In separate economic news, Bank of England policymakers voted unanimously to keep interest rates on hold in January, minutes from the meeting revealed.

This is the first time since July last year that all nine members of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) have voted to leave rates unchanged.

Two members of the MPC, Martin Weale and Ian McCafferty, have been voting for an interest rate rise since August. However, the latest minutes showed the MPC thought a rate rise now might cause below-target inflation to become entrenched.