Unemployment drops as PM 'predicted'


There has been a drop in the number of people claiming benefit as a result of unemployment, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The claimant count fell by 3,900 in August to 950,100, although this is still higher than the total this time last year, which was more than 80,000 lower.

According to the ONS, the number of people in employment for the quarter ending in July 2006 was almost 29 million, the highest quarterly figure since records began more than 30 years ago.

A quarterly rise of 38,000 was backed by an annual gain of 220,000 jobs, as the total weekly hours worked hit 926.7 million, up by 4.5 million since 2005.

With nearly three-quarters of the population of a working age now employed and earnings growth rate on the increase, the news has prompted speculation that a further rate rise from the Bank of England could be on the agenda.

Meanwhile, there have been concerns that Tony Blair may have revealed details of the ONS data ahead of its official publication when addressing the TUC conference yesterday.

During a question and answer session which followed his main speech – during which he was heckled by some delegates – the prime minister predicted today's figures would show a "very welcome" drop in the number of claimants.

"Tomorrow we will see a fall in unemployment," he said to the conference.

The leaking of market sensitive data has been criticised by Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, who warned Mr Blair he needed to follow the correct protocols.

"Employment data is market sensitive, it should be released to the market in a proper manner in agreement with the Treasury," he insisted.

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