Unemployment in the UK rose by 21,000 to 1.7 million between December and February, according to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The figures also show that there were 732,000 people claiming unemployment related benefits. They consisted of 604,600 claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 127,500 people who were out of work and claiming Universal Credit.
79.2% of men and 69.1% of women aged from 16 to 64 were in work between December 2015 to February 2016. Employment rates for both men and women were higher than for a year earlier. The employment rate for women (69.1%) was the joint highest since comparable records began in 1971, partly because ongoing changes to the state pension age for women resulted in fewer women retiring between the ages of 60 and 65.
Nick Palmers, an ONS statistician said: “It’s too soon to be certain but with unemployment up for the first time since mid-2015 and employment seeing its slowest rise that period, it is possible that recent improvements in the labour market may be easing off.”
Uncertainty over EU membership a deterrent
According to the BBC, uncertainty over European Union (EU) membership could be deterring companies from taking on new staff.
Ben Brettell, senior economist at financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown told the BBC: “Last week the Bank of England said that concerns about the EU referendum had begun to affect the real economy.
“The increase in unemployment announced today adds some weight to that hypothesis. It’s possible businesses are delaying decisions about hiring and investment until after June’s vote, which could lead to a slow down in the first two quarters this year."
Mr Brettell added that: “Never the less, the bigger picture is that the UK labour market remains in reasonable health.”
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Office for National Statistics: UK Labour Market Statistics April 2016