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Unemployment increased in run-up to coronavirus outbreak

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UK unemployment rose in the three months to February, before the effects of the coronavirus pandemic took hold, figures show.

An estimated 1.36 million people were unemployed during the period, 22,000 more than a year earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It was the second annual increase in unemployment since May to July 2012 and was driven by a 32,000 increase for men.

The data, published this morning, also showed job vacancies in the UK fell by 52,000 to 795,000 between January and March.

Employment remained at a record high with 76.6% of people aged 16 to 64 in paid work for the December to February period, slightly higher than the 76.4% reported in the previous quarter.

Annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees fell to 2.8% for total pay (including bonuses), and 2.9% regular pay (excluding bonuses).

Pay continues to grow faster than inflation, but its rate of growth has slowed since mid-2019.

David Freeman, head of labour market statistics at the ONS, said: “Our final data wholly from before the coronavirus restrictions were in place showed the labour market was very robust in the three months to February.”

The ONS pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic means that the UK’s labour market is fast-changing.

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