The number of people in work has reached a record high, while earnings have grown slightly above inflation for the first time in almost a year, new figures showed.
Employment increased by 55,000 in the quarter to February to 32.2 million, the highest figure since records began in 1971, giving a record rate of 75.4%.
Unemployment fell by 16,000 to 1.42 million, the lowest in more than a decade, giving a jobless rate of 4.2%, the lowest since 1975, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Average earnings increased by 2.8% in the year to February, unchanged on the previous month and the highest since September 2015.
The latest CPI inflation figure is 2.7% and is expected to remain unchanged when new figures are published on Wednesday.
Matt Hughes, senior ONS statistician, said: “The labour market continues to be strong and, for the first time in almost a year, earnings have grown slightly after inflation has been taken into account.”
The number of people classed as economically inactive, including students, those on long-term sick leave, on early retirement, or who have given up looking for work, fell by 2,000 to 8.7 million in the latest quarter, giving a rate of 21%, a joint record low.
The claimant count, which includes people on Jobseeker’s Allowance and the unemployment element of Universal Credit, increased by 11,600 last month to 855,300, the highest for more than three years.
Job vacancies remained unchanged at 815,000, while the number of self-employed workers fell for the second successive quarter – down by 18,000 to 4.76 million.
Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey said: “Another milestone for employment has been reached under this Government as employment reaches a record high, up 3.2 million since 2010 – the 16th time the employment record has been broken in the same period.
“That means, on average, over 1,000 people have moved into work every day since 2010, and credit has to be given to the businesses who have created those jobs and the individuals who are taking those opportunities.
“Day by day we are helping people turn their lives around by getting into employment. Jobs are key to transforming lives and work is the best route out of poverty.
“And this month we have again increased the personal allowance and taken more people out of paying tax altogether, making sure people can keep more of what they earn.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unions have negotiated pay rises for workers across the UK, from the counters at McDonald’s to the factory floor at Ford.
“But wage growth is still weak. Workers are £14 a week worse off than they were in 2007 – with pay packets not expected to return to their pre-crisis level until 2025.”
Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “The continued rise in employment, coupled with a further drop in the unemployment rate, is further evidence that the UK jobs market remains in good shape, with firms continuing to recruit despite sluggish economic conditions.
“However, the rising number of hours worked indicates that the recent pick-up in UK productivity is likely to be short-lived.
“The end of a prolonged squeeze on real wage growth is an important moment, although maintaining positive real wage growth could prove challenging without sustained increases in productivity and relieving the high upfront costs which restrict pay increases.
“The return to positive real wage growth is unlikely to translate into materially stronger spending in the near term with consumers expected to remain under pressure from uncomfortably high debt levels, particularly if interest rates rise further.”
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