Unemployment figures for those under 25 went up by 66,000 in the quarter, to 965,000, the highest since comparable records began in 1992. Their unemployment rate rose to 20.5%, said the ONS.
The number of male claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance has fallen for 12 consecutive months, but the number of female claimants increased by 7,800 in the quarter to 449,200, the highest figure since October 1996. The fall in part-time working of 62,000, down to a total of 6.69 million, occurred entirely among women.
The number of people in work overall fell by 68,000, to 29.12 million, giving a UK employment rate of 70.5%, down 0.3% in the quarter. Inactivity was also up by 93,000, driven in large part by a growing trend in early retirement, which rose by 49,000. As in the previous quarter, the numbers of ‘unwilling part-timers’, those taking part-time work because they couldn’t find full-time employment, rose by 44,000 to reach 1.19 million, the highest figure since 1992.
"This mini-recession in the labour market as a whole is turning into a major crisis for young people," said Ian Brinkley, director of socio-economic programmes at The Work Foundation.
"Young people’s employment will not recover significantly until employers start hiring them again in significant numbers and that depends on the overall state of the economy. In the meantime, the Government needs to look again at levels of support for young people through temporary employment programmes and encouraging more apprenticeships and paid intern placements."
Samantha O'Byrne, head of resourcing at accountants Grant Thornton UK, which has won awards for its internship programme, agreed that the picture for young people was bleak.
"It is particularly concerning that the unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 24 has reached its highest figure since comparable records began in 1992, having increased by 1.5% on the quarter to reach 20.5%, and shows that the Government really needs to sit up and take action to address the employment issue for our youth," she said.
"Many sectors reliant on consumer spending will struggle in 2011. This, coupled with the Government spending cuts set to take effect, could mean we will see further job losses across both the public and the private sector in the first part of this year," she added.
The latest figures suggest that recovery in the private sector is still too weak to offset job losses in the public sector. Public sector redundancies were already running at 40% more than a year ago, and the recent spate of redundancy warnings means that this is bound to accelerate, warned Nigel Meager, director of the Institute for Employment Studies.
"The figures again show the challenges faced by some groups of jobseekers. Long-term unemployment continues to rise, with 833,000 now out of work for more than a year. The disappearance of government programmes to help young unemployed, and the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance, which encourages young people to remain in further education, will not have helped the situation. Being unemployed in their teens or twenties has an impact on young people’s entire working life, and policy-makers cannot afford to neglect this," said Meager.