Unemployment down 45,000 in last quarter as wage growth slows
The number of people seeking work in the UK fell by 45,000 in the three months to February, according to the latest official figures.
The unemployment rate remains at 4.7%, the same as last month but down from 5.1% last February, while the total number of jobless stood at 1.56 million, the Office for National Statistics said.
The estimated 2.3% increase in average weekly earnings was virtually cancelled out by inflation, meaning pay rose by just 0.2% over the last 12 months in real terms when including bonuses, or 0.1% without.
Employment is also up, with 31.84 million people in work – 39,000 more than for September to November 2016 and 312,000 more than for a year earlier.
There were 10,000 fewer people recorded as economically inactive – not working and not seeking or available to work – than in the previous quarter.
ONS senior statistician David Freeman said: “A joint record employment rate and a new record high for the number of vacancies point to continued strength in the labour market.
“However, higher inflation, coupled with subdued earnings increases, means that the real growth rate in pay has tailed off to just above zero.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said: “This is yet another strong set of figures, with unemployment at a rate that hasn't been beaten since the 1970s and more vacancies than ever before.
“More people are finding full-time jobs and average wages have grown yet again, meaning more families have the security of a regular wage.”
The Resolution Foundation said sectors accounting for approximately 40% of the workforce were now seeing pay falling in real terms.
Stephen Clarke, the thinktank’s economic analyst, said: “The bad news on pay has come despite another good performance on jobs. The record employment rate has barely changed in the last year but big shifts are still taking place, both in terms of the type of work being done – with a big growth in full time work – and the people doing those jobs, as the number of migrant workers starts to fall.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the slow growth in wages was proof of a “Brexit squeeze”.
“Workers are now suffering a real fall in living standards. This is not a claim, it is a fact, and the blame lies firmly at the doors of Downing Street”, he said.
“The Conservatives have lost the right to call themselves the party of business and they have lost the last shred of economic credibility.”