April 21, 2010 / 8:39 AM / 8 years ago

Claimant count falls but jobless rate at 14-yr high

LONDON (Reuters) - The number of Britons claiming unemployment benefit fell three times faster than expected in March, but the rate of unemployment on the broader ILO measure rose to its highest in almost 14 years in the three months to February, official data showed on Wednesday.

<p>A man passes a trade exhibition stand at the Careers and Jobs Live careers fair at the ExCeL centre in London April 19, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor</p>

The Office for National Statistics said the number of people claiming jobless benefit fell by 32,900 in March after a revised fall of 40,100 in February, which was the sharpest drop since June 1997. Analysts had forecast a decline of 10,000 in March.

The number of people without a job on the wider ILO measure, however, rose by 43,000 to 2.502 million in the three months to February, the highest total since October-December 1994. That took the jobless rate up to 8.0 percent, the highest since 1996 and above forecasts for a steady reading of 7.8 percent.

The mixed figures will be closely scrutinised by Britain’s three main political parties ahead of an election on May 6. The economy and jobs is a key battleground in the close-run race, with polls pointing to a hung parliament where no party has an overall majority.

Average weekly earnings including bonuses rose by 2.3 percent in the three months to February from 0.8 percent in the three months to January, slightly below expectations for a rise to 2.5 percent.

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