The Government was given some welcome good news on the jobs front today when unemployment fell by 45,000 and the number of dole claimants dipped for the second month in a row.

The jobless total was 2.6 million in the three months to March, the lowest since last summer, while the number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance last month was down by 13,700 to 1.59 million.

The number of people in work increased by 105,000 to almost 30 million, but this was entirely due to a rise in part-time workers.

Self-employment has also reached a record figure of 4.1 million, up by 89,000 since the previous quarter.

Average earnings increased by 0.6% in the year to March, but are down by 0.5 percentage points on the previous month because of lower bonuses in the private sector.

Not all good news

Almost eight million people are now in a part-time job, the highest since records began in 1992, while those working part-time because they cannot find full-time work increased by 73,000 to a record high of 1.4 million.

Other figures from the Office for National Statistics show the number of people unemployed for more than a year increased by 27,000 to 887,000, the worst total since 1996.

In the three months to March, a third of all unemployed people had been out of work for more than a year.

The number of people unemployed for more than two years rose by 5,000 to 428,000.

Overall, the UK's unemployment rate has fallen by 0.2% to 8.2%, lower than the European average of 10.2%.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the EU at 24.1%, while Austria has the lowest at 4%.

Youth unemployment has also fallen, down by 17,000 over the latest quarter to 1.02 million.

'Uncertainty remains'

Employment Minister Chris Grayling says: "These figures are a welcome step in the right direction. However, we still face significant international uncertainty."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber says: "Today's figures are mixed, with the welcome fall in unemployment driven entirely by part-time jobs.

"However the collapse in wages is terrible news for those in work and threatens our chances of an economic recovery."

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