Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed that unemployment in the UK has reached the highest level in 16 years.
However, the unemployment figures only rose by 48,000 in December 2011, and the level of unemployment now stands at 8.4%.
Whilst the rise in unemployment appeared to slow towards the end of 2011, the number of job vacancies also rose to over 475,000 in the three months leading up to January. This has fuelled some hopes that the first quarter of 2012 will see economic growth and help avoid recession.
A spokesperson from the Bank of England suggested that the economy is moving in the right direction. They went on to predict that it would ‘zig zag’ into and out of growth over the next year.
Unemployed women accounted for two-thirds of Decembers rise in unemployment which is thought to be partly due to the cuts in the public sector. Women over the age of 50 also appeared to be particularly vulnerable to losing work.
The unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds is now at a record high of 22.2%.
The Prime Minister indicated his disappointment at the rise in unemployment, whilst the Shadow Chancellor argued that the government was being complacent and called for urgent action to avoid the long term unemployment problems seen in the 1980s.
The figures also revealed that there is an increasing reliance on part-time jobs in the UK economy, as 70,000 more part time jobs were recorded in the last quarter. Part-time employment is now at its highest since records began.
Some experts suggest that the rise in part-time workers has helped to mask the fall in full-time employment figures. Taken as a whole, the number of people who were in work rose by 60,000 and there were 70,000 more people in part-time work. This suggests that there was a 10,000 fall in the number of available full-time jobs. This has raised some concerns that many more people are having to take part-time work because full -time work is unavailable, leaving themselves under-employed.
The number of people in public sector work was also shown to be falling whilst the number of people in private sector work was rising. The figures for September 2011, showed that for the previous quarter, public sector work fell by 67,000, whilst private sector work rose by only 5,000.
A spokesperson for the TUC indicated that around a third of all job seekers had now been out of work for over a year and that there is now about 6 unemployed people for every available job, contradicting the government’s claims that there was plenty of work available.
Brendan Barber from the TUC added: “It’s encouraging to see a small rise in employment, but this is entirely down to people taking part-time work because there are no full-time jobs available.”
ONS figures indicated that there were around 1.6 million people on unemployment benefits inJanuary, whilst the number of people who were under-employed was at around 2.67 million.