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UK employment hits 45-year high

The UK employment rate has reached 74.2%, the joint highest level since comparable records began in 1971.

The latest jobs figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that between the three months to January 2016 and February to April 2016, the number of people in work increased, the number of unemployed people fell, and the number of people not working and not seeking or available to work also fell slightly. The unemployment rate was 5%, the lowest since 2005.

In addition, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2% including bonuses and by 2.3% excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Commenting on the data, David Kern, chief economist of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "Another strong set of labour market figures, with rising employment and falling unemployment, suggests that the economy may not have softened as much as feared in the early months of 2016. Our flexible and dynamic labour market remains a source of strength for the UK economy."

Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Business (FSB), said: 

"The unemployment rate is at historically low levels, but this does not seem to be translating into broader business confidence. Clearly there are other factors at play which, although not hitting jobs now, are causing business owners to take a cautious approach."

Michael Martins, Economist at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: 

"Companies are hoarding labour in the same way that they did in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Rather than lay off valuable staff unnecessarily, they seem to be trying to keep calm until we get the result of the referendum on the 24th."

Martins added:

"It is not all good news … vacancies, a leading indicator, decreased by 0.9% in the services sector, which makes up four-fifths of the UK's economy."

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said the latest ONS data "makes the case for improved productivity an even more pressing concern". 

Gerwyn Davies, CIPD labour market adviser, said: 

"This boost to earnings may be short-lived unless employers are able to increase their productivity to meet the additional cost of the National Living Wage."

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