London: The number of people claiming jobless benefit rose by the biggest amount on record last month, official data showed on Wednesday, and the wider measure of unemployment rose above 2 million for the first time since 1997.
The Office for National Statistics figures showed the claimant count rose by 138,400 in February, after an upwardly revised increase of 93,500 in January.
That was well above analysts’ forecasts for a rise of 85,000 and the biggest monthly increase since comparable records began in 1971.
The internationally comparable ILO measure of unemployment rose by 165,000 in the three months to January to 2.029 million — the highest since 1997.
The worse than expected unemployment figures will reinforce fears that Britain’s economic downturn could be more painful than previously thought.
Average earnings including bonuses in the three months to January grew an annual 1.8 percent, the weakest since records began in 1991. The single month annual rate actually fell by 0.2%, the first fall on record.
The claimant count rate rose to 4.3% in February — the highest since March 1999.