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UK unemployment increased to 1.36million before coronavirus struck

Unemployment increased by 22,000 leaving 1.36million Britons out of work in three months before coronavirus hit

Unemployment in Britain increased by 22,000 to 1.36 million in the three months to February – before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the UK.

The official figures from the Office for National Statistics released this morning represent one of the first signs of the impact of the shutdown on jobs.

Growth in the number of people on firms’ payrolls slowed to 0.8 per cent in March from 1.1 per cent in February, based on preliminary tax data released earlier than usual.

A sign outside the Department of Work and Pensions in Central London (file picture)

David Freeman, ONS head of labour market statistics, said: ‘Our final data wholly from before the coronavirus restrictions were in place showed the labour market was very robust in the three months to February.

‘For the first time, we have brought forward information on the number of employees in work using PAYE data to cover a more recent period.

‘These experimental statistics show a softening picture in March, but cover the month as a whole, including the period before the coronavirus restrictions were in place.’

It also reported a 12,100 monthly increase in the number of unemployment benefit claims for March, far below the median forecast of 172,500 in a Reuters poll of economists.

The claims data is based on the situation on March 12, before much of the economy was shut down on March 23.