British jobless total races to 17-year high

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Britain's unemployed total has rocketed to a 17 year-high, official data showed Wednesday, denting economic recovery prospects and government hopes that the private sector can offset huge cuts in state jobs.

Britain's jobless total jumped to 2.57 million people in the three months to August, the highest amount since 1994, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

The country's unemployment rate shot up to 8.1 percent during the quarter, the highest level for 15 years and youth unemployment hit a record high of 991,000, the ONS added.

Prime Minister David Cameron described the data as "very disappointing."

"Every job that is lost is a tragedy for that person and for their family and that is why this government is going to do everything it possibly can to help get people into work," he told parliament.

"We've got to do more to get our economy moving, to get jobs for our people but we mustn't abandon the (deficit-reduction) plan."

Britain escaped from a deep recession in the third quarter of 2009 but its recovery has been severely constrained by collapsing consumer confidence, painful state austerity cuts and the eurozone debt crisis.

Wednesday's data comes less than a week after the Bank of England injected £75 billion (86 billion euros, $115 billion) of new money into Britain's stalled economy in a bid to boost growth.

BoE governor Mervyn King has said that Britain is facing possibly its most serious ever financial crisis.

Although Britain is not a member of the eurozone, the bloc is the country's main trading market.

"Today's UK labour data is very weak," said James Knightley, an analyst at ING Bank. "The weakness is no real surprise given the wave of fiscal austerity is resulting in significant public sector job losses.

"Meanwhile worries about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and slowing global growth will have kept private sector firms cautious and reluctant to hire workers.

"Hiring intentions surveys remain in positive territory but we are cautious on jobs given the global growth story is unlikely to rebound sharply in the near-term.

"BoE stimulus will help but we also need some resolution to the sovereign debt story and action from other central banks to stimulate the recovery," Knightley added.

The ONS said in a statement on Wednesday: "The unemployment rate for the three months to August 2011 was 8.1 percent of the economically active population ... The last time the unemployment rate was higher was in the three months to July 1996.

"The total number of unemployed people increased by 114,000 over the quarter ... to reach 2.57 million. The number of unemployed people has not been higher since the three months to October 1994," it added.

© 2011 AFP

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