16/12/2015 10:59 GMT | Updated 16/12/2016 05:12 GMT

Record Numbers In Work As Jobless Total Falls To Seven Year Low

The Government has been given a pre-Christmas boost on the jobs front after new figures showed record numbers in work and unemployment falling to a seven-year low.

More than 31 million people are in work, the highest since comparable records began in 1971, giving an employment rate of almost 74%.

Unemployment fell by 110,000 in the quarter to October to 1.7 million, the lowest since the spring of 2008.

The claimant count - those on jobseeker's allowance and the out of work element of Universal Credit - increased by 3,900 last month to 796,200, today's data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed.

Total hours worked per week topped one billion in the latest quarter, the first time it has passed this mark.

ONS statistician David Freeman said: "This results from the number of people in work continuing to increase, as average weekly hours per person are fairly stable.

"Earnings continue to grow in real terms, although at a slower rate than we have seen in recent months."

Average earnings increased by 2.4% in the year to October, 0.6% down on the previous month.

Unemployment has fallen by almost a quarter of a million over the past year, giving a jobless rate of 5.2%, the lowest since the start of 2006.

The number of people classed as economically inactive, including people looking after a relative, on long-term sick leave or given up looking for work, fell by 63,000 in the latest three months, to 8.9 million, giving a rate of 21.9%, the lowest since 1990.

Other figures showed that public sector employment was 5.3 million in September, 12,000 lower than in June, and the lowest total since current records began in 1999.

Private sector employment increased by 219,000 to a record of almost 26 million.

The number of people working part-time who want full-time jobs increased by 12,000 to 1.28 million, but was down by 32,000 compared with a year ago.

Employment minister Priti Patel said: "We are ending the year on a high, with a record rate of employment and wages continuing to grow.

"Today's figures show half a million more people in work compared to this time last year, which means hundreds of thousands of families are going into the festive season with the security and hope for the future that work brings.

"Next year we will build on this positive story with the introduction of the national living wage and the new offer of 30 hours free childcare for working families.

"In this way we are delivering the high-wage, low-welfare society with opportunity and security at its heart that we know the British people want."

Chancellor George Osborne said: "Today's record employment figures, alongside unemployment and youth unemployment rates at a nine-year low, mean more people than ever before have the security of a job and regular pay packet so they can provide for themselves and their families.

"Our plan for a more prosperous future is delivering for working people with pay packets growing, and the new national living wage will deliver a further boost next year.

"This is good progress but as we move closer to our goal of full employment we need to continue to help the hardest to reach into work and ensure as many people as possible benefit from the growing economy."

Laura Gardiner of the Resolution Foundation said: "Britain's jobs recovery continues to impress, with strong growth among both employees and the self-employed.

"But the pay rebound we've enjoyed throughout much of 2015 appears to have weakened, despite inflation remaining at historically low levels.

"With many expecting the Fed to raise interest rates later today, the focus will soon shift on to when the Bank of England will make a similar move. But with rising inflation likely to slow the pace of Britain's pay recovery in 2016, the first move may remain a little way off."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "This is an encouraging pre-Christmas set of figures, with employment rising to a record high, unemployment falling, and inactivity declining.

"The youth unemployment rate has also fallen to a 10-year low, although it is still considerably higher than the national average.

"Overall these figures demonstrate that our flexible and vibrant labour market remains a source of strength for the UK economy.

"While wages are continuing to rise faster than prices, boosting disposable incomes, the slowdown in annual earnings growth will provide more evidence to the MPC that there is no need to consider any early increase in interest rates."

Mark Beatson, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "Today's statistics suggest that job growth in the UK has well and truly recovered, following what seemed to be a pause earlier in the year."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "While it's good news that employment continues to rise, the slowdown in pay growth is a real cause for concern.

"With living standards still not fully recovered, many families will be worse off this Christmas than they were before the recession.

"For the recovery to deliver for everyone, we need stronger growth in pay and productivity in 2016."

Michael Martins, economic analyst at the Institute of Directors, said: "Yet again, these latest jobs figures make for welcome reading. The facts are impressive, and, given the turbulence which is affecting many parts of the world, worth repeating. In nearly every aspect, the labour market is tightening.

"The employment rate is at its highest ever level, the unemployment rate is down to its lowest since well before the crash at 5.2%, and youth unemployment – always a tricky problem to solve – continues to fall impressively. All of this indicates we are closing in on full employment."