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Benefits figures provide slight optimism

A slowdown in jobless benefits suggest an imminent upturn in employment figures

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A slowdown in benefit claims in December suggested that jobless figures are improving following a 17-year nadir in November.

The Office for National Statistics said today that the number of people claiming jobless benefit rose by 1,200 in December, compared with analysts’ forecasts of a 10,000 increase. This followed an increase of 118,000 people out of work to  2.685 million in November, according to the ILO measure. This represented 8.4% of the workforce, the highest percentage since January 1996.

The number of 16-24 year-olds without a job rose to 1.043 million in the three months to November.

The government has been banking on private companies to create enough jobs to make up for the some 700,000 jobs it will cut in the public sector as part of its austerity programme, aimed at erasing the country's huge budget deficit over the next 5 years.

However, while the slowdown in benefit claims and the rise in employment will provide some hope, unemployment looks set to rise further.

In particular banks and retailers have cut jobs in recent weeks and Britain's biggest food group Premier Foods announced on Tuesday that it would slash 600 jobs in the face of weak consumer demand.

A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses showed that smaller firms were planning job cuts, too, as the economy is close to recession again.


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