The unemployment rate of the economically active population for November 2011 to January 2012 has increased on the previous quarter by 0.1% to 8.4%, the highest rate since 1995.

There are now 2.67 million unemployed people, which is a rise of 28,000 on last quarter.

The employment rate for those aged 16-64 has however remained the same as the previous quarter at 70.3%

Although the number of people in employment over the age of 16 was up 9,000 at 29.12 million, the number of people employed in the public sector fell 37,000 to reach its lowest level since June 2003 of 5.94 million.

The number of those 16-63 year-olds who are economically inactive also fell on the quarter by 27,000 to 9.3 million.

Pay rate increases also slowed. Total pay (including bonuses) rose over the year by 1.4%, which is half a percent down on the year to the previous quarter and regular pay (excluding bonuses) rose by 1.7%, which is down 0.3%.

The figures were of course jumped an by Harriet Harman at Prime Minister's Questions, where she asked in the light of the data what impact had the LibDems actually had on Tory policy. As the PM is away visiting the USA, his place was taken today by the deputy PM, Nick Clegg. And, following protocol, Ed Miliband's position as chief inquisitor was taken by the Labour Party deputy Harriet Harman, who took advantage and tried to drive a wedge between the parties.

Commenting on the figures, Nida Ali, economic advisor to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club, said

The labour market is showing some signs of stabilisation. Once again unemployment has increased on both measures which is discouraging. However, the rate of increase has slowed markedly when compared to recent months and provides some comfort.

“It is disappointing that January saw a further slowdown in an already very weak wage growth. The sharp fall in January's inflation to 3.6% will provide households with some relief, but with wage growth lagging way behind the inflation rate, it will be a long time before consumers' real incomes stabilise. The pressure on households is therefore likely to continue for some time yet.

“The labour market outlook is still quite downbeat. Although there has been a raft of upbeat data for the UK economy in the early months of 2012, the improvement is unlikely to be enough to create more jobs. The scale of job cuts in the public sector remains very strong and the private sector is struggling to make up the slack. Unemployment is expected to continue edging up in the coming months, peaking only by the beginning of 2013, before it starts drifting down gradually.

The UK Market Analyst of Western Union Business Solutions, Nawaz Ali, said “Sterling is back under pressure today following news that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits in the UK rose by 7,200 in February to the highest level since November 2009. This figure is another worrying sign for the UK economy and indicates that the Bank of England will need to continue to maintain its ultra-loose monetary policy, which would also negatively affect the pound.

“On the other hand, Britain’s overall jobless rate held steady at 8.4% for another month, offering a glimmer of hope that the recent deterioration in labour market conditions is stabilising. The UK economy is expected to return to growth this year following last quarter’s slump in economic output.

"Still, today’s data will no doubt keep the pressure on Chancellor George Osborne to ease austerity measures ahead of next week’s budget. If that does not happen, markets may respond by selling the pound if investors sense that fiscal prudence will continue to suffocate business confidence this year.”

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