Unemployment figures look promising but the good news could be short-lived

UK unemployment in the three months to February fell by 35,000. Photo: REUTERS/Stephen Hird

Unemployment in the UK has fallen on the three months to February, down 35,000 to 2.65 million people.

In the context of a weak economy this is good news and a little unexpected. But, as always, it pays dividends to look at the numbers in detail.

First, the quarterly figures are quite volatile and this may be just a blip. Certainly there are more public sector job cuts to come and the question is whether the private sector can add enough new jobs to (more than) make up forthem.

The monthly claimant count rose 3,600 in March, the seventeenth monthly rise ina row. It's a more stable measure than the quarterly numbers and although it rose, it was about half as much as expected.

So the picture is not quite as rosy as the initial numbers suggested.

Also a persistent problem is long-term unemployment; people out of work for more than 12 months. This has been rising, too, and is up 26,000 to 883,000.

This especially affects young people with little experience and older people who may have lost a job. The IPPR has done some work which explores this area and it can be found here.

Finally, some economists query the type of jobs people are getting as they enter the workforce.

Andrew Sissons at the Work foundation says:

The economy actually shed full-time jobs over the last three months.

There are now 1.4 million people in part-time work who would prefer a full-time job, which is the highest level since records began.

Overall, today's good news may be short-lived and unemployment is likely to continue to rise this year as the economy stumbles into a slow recovery.

It may not reach the levels some have predicted but there is much work still to be done in getting people back to work.

Economics Editor Richard Edgar has the full report: