Britain’s unemployment rate unexpectedly fell for a second month in a row to 4.9% in the December-to-February period, most of which the country spent under a tight COVID-19 lockdown, official figures showed on Tuesday.
Most economists polled by Reuters had forecast that the unemployment rate – which has been held down by the government’s huge jobs subsidies plan – would edge up to 5.1% from 5.0% in the three months to January.
The ONS said the fall in the unemployment rate was linked to a rise in the share of people who were out of the jobs market altogether. The so-called inactivity rate rose by 0.2 percentage points in the three months to February.
There was another reminder of the precarious state of the labour market in figures from Britain’s tax office which showed the number of employees on company payrolls fell by 56,000 between February and March, the first decline in four months.
That pushed up the total number of jobs lost since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to 813,000, the ONS said.