UK unemployment hits 14-year high

Unions and employers in Britain reacted with "alarm" today after unemployment surged to a 14-year high, prompting fresh calls for the UK government help for the growing army of jobless.

Unions and employers in Britain reacted with "alarm" today after unemployment surged to a 14-year high, prompting fresh calls for the UK government help for the growing army of jobless.

The total now stands at 2.47 million following a 210,000 rise in the three months to July, while the numbers claiming jobseeker's allowance rose by 24,400 to 1.61 million in August - the highest since May 1997 and the 18th monthly rise in a row.

The British recession's impact on young people was also underlined by jobless totals among 16 to 24-year-olds reaching 947,000 - the highest level since Office for National Statistics (ONS) records began in 1992.

The jobless rate among this age group is also a record 19.7%, meaning one in five is looking for work.

The number of economically inactive people also rose to its highest point since records began in 1971, at 7.99 million, said the ONS.

Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Brendan Barber said: "There are now over a million people out of work for more than six months, more than one in three of them under 25. There are no signs of recovery here."

Derek Simpson, joint leader of Unite, said the figures showed that the recession was "far from over", while Unison leader Dave Prentis said: "It is crucial that the Government act quickly to help people back into work, particularly the near one million young people who must not be allowed to become the lost generation.

"With such devastating figures it would be ludicrous to add public sector workers to the dole queues by cutting back on public services."

British Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper warned that it could be some time before the jobless total began to fall, even as the economy began to recover.

"We know the evidence from previous recessions suggests that sometimes employers can wait until they feel more confident before they start recruiting again so there can be a lag," she told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

"We therefore have to do everything we can to keep investing now. People are still being hit by the world recession."

Conservative leader David Cameron said: "It's extremely depressing that we are getting to a point of 2.5 million people unemployed.

"What we need to do is make sure our welfare system is working in every way it can to help people get jobs, to help people get back into work, to give them the training that they need - and we will have more to say about that.

"It is one of the number one issues that are current in British politics. I don't think we do that in the best way that we could at the moment and we will have a lot more to say about that."

Today's data also showed that the employment rate was 72.5%, the lowest level for more than 12 years.

Unemployment has now risen by 743,000 over the year and looks on course to pass the three million mark next year as the impact of the recession feeds through to rising dole queues.

Vacancies were down 12,000 to 434,000 on the latest quarter and, in the suffering manufacturing sector, the number of jobs has fallen to 2.65 million in the three months to July - the lowest since comparable ONS records began in 1978.

The contrasting impact of recession on the public and private sectors was also shown by the 13,000 rise in public sector employees to 6.04 million in the quarter to June.

This contrasts with a 230,000 fall in private sector workers to 22.85 million over the same period, the ONS said.

Katja Hall, CBI director of employment policy, said: "The rising level of youth unemployment is alarming and we cannot afford to lose a generation of young people.

"Apprenticeships are an excellent path to employment but their availability would be constrained if a minimum wage was set too high."

Sean Figg, of campaign group Youth Fight for Jobs, which held a protest in Westminster today, said: "Job losses continue, and the prospect of getting another dims.

"Gordon Brown and David Cameron are calling for massive cuts in public spending - this will clearly have an impact on young people, especially those unlucky enough to be unemployed."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Although the increase in unemployment was marginally smaller than feared, the figures are consistent with our assessment that the jobless total will rise to over three million next year."

For the British public sector, average annual pay growth including bonuses was 3.4% in July - almost three times the 1.2% seen in the private sector and double the 1.7% growth overall.

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