Official figures have revealed a rise in the number of people unemployed and wage growth flat, in a knock for the UK economy.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said its latest data, which recorded the first increase in the jobless total since last summer, could mean that the recovery in the labour market was “easing off”.

It also reported a jump of 21,000 in the jobless total between December and February to 1.7 million – with the UK’s unemployment rate unchanged at 5.1{06aeb1921e0b802d2bd9c766bc98fb11cc6a46c2b0593ed9c88a0e29cf417a34}.

There was the first monthly rise since last August in the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits.

The total rose by 6,700 in March to 732,100, the ONS said while average annual wage growth, excluding the effect of bonus payments, was static at 2.2{06aeb1921e0b802d2bd9c766bc98fb11cc6a46c2b0593ed9c88a0e29cf417a34}.

The ONS also calculated the biggest quarterly fall in women’s employment for five years, with the total falling 40,000 between December and February to 14.6 million.

ONS statistician Nick Palmer said: “It’s too soon to be certain but with unemployment up for the first time since mid-2015 and employment seeing its slowest rise since that period, it’s possible that recent improvements in the labour market may be easing off”.

The figures add weight to fears that the UK economy is being dragged into the world economic slowdown. In addition to this there is also uncertainty over the EU referendum in June potentially delaying investment.

Other official figures and closely-watched activity surveys have pointed to an easing in the UK’s GDP growth in the first quarter of 2016 after growth of 0.6{06aeb1921e0b802d2bd9c766bc98fb11cc6a46c2b0593ed9c88a0e29cf417a34}. This was recorded in the final three months of 2016.

Jeremy Cook, chief economist at the international payments company World First, said: “The first quarter of 2016 has seen structured economic data become a depressant and it is likely that Q1 (first quarter) was the weakest in growth terms since 2013 with expectations that businesses and consumers may suspend spending and investment decisions through Q2 as the referendum vote closes in.

“Unemployment data from the UK has been one of the few bright spots in recent months but survey and anecdotal data has shown that this maybe starting to dull.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Through steps like introducing the National Living Wage, increasing childcare support and creating three million apprenticeships by 2020, this Government is committed to doing everything it can to get even more people into work and support economic growth.”

Source: Sky News