British jobless total soars to highest level since 1994
Britain's jobless total has hit a new 17-year peak and youth unemployment a record high, data showed Wednesday, dashing government hopes that private companies would offset public sector job losses.
The number of unemployed climbed by 128,000 in the three months to October to reach 2.64 million, the Office of National Statistics said in a statement. That was the highest total since 1994.
The grim data also revealed that youth unemployment, or the number of 16-24 year-olds without a job, increased 54,000 to 1.03 million in the same period -- which was the highest level since comparable records began in 1992.
The overall jobless rate held at a 15-year high of 8.3 percent in the three months to October, compared with the three months to September.
"Any increase in unemployment is bad news and a tragedy for those involved," Prime Minister David Cameron admitted in his weekly question-and-answer session in parliament on Wednesday.
"That is why we will do everything we can to help people back in to work," he said, stressing the government's plans to try and create new jobs and work placements for the young.
However, Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour party, accused Cameron's government of "betraying a whole generation of young people" with its policies.
But Cameron insisted that boosting the private sector was the only way to tackle unemployment -- and argued that whichever party was in power would cut public spending.
"The absolute key to all this is getting our economy moving," the premier said.
"We need private sector jobs. It is this government that has got interest rates down.
"That is why we have the prospects of growth -- whereas his plans are for more spending, more borrowing, more debt, more of the mess that we started with."
Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition hoped the private sector would create enough jobs to offset heavy losses in the public sector but the economy has been hit hard by the debt crisis in key trading partner the eurozone.
He said private sector had created 581,000 jobs since the coalition came to power in May 2010, while 336,000 posts had been shed in the public sector.
Economists said that the dire data has sparked questions about the coalition's ongoing austerity drive, which is aimed at slashing a huge public deficit.
"Worries about real income and employment prospects -- exacerbated by austerity measures and unpredictable spill-overs from eurozone sovereign debt crises -- mean that UK consumers will be hunkering down for a difficult winter," said Daniel Solomon at the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
The ONS said Wednesday that the number of people claiming jobless benefits increased by 3,000 in November to reach 1.6 million. That was the ninth consecutive monthly rise and the highest total since the start of 2010.
The number of unemployed women rose 45,000 to 1.1 million in the three months to October, the highest level since 1988.
© 2011 AFP