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The rate of unemployment rose from 4.3% to 4.4% for the three months to the end of December, the Office for National Statistics said.

Despite the slight increase in the unemployment rate, the total number of those in work increased by 88,000.

Wages grew by an average of 2.5%, up from 2.4% the previous month, although the increase remained below inflation.

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The number of unemployed people rose by 46,000 to 1.47 million for the final quarter of the year, compared to the previous three months.

The unemployment rate counts people who are registered as looking for work as a proportion of the working-age population. This means the figure can be affected both by a change in the size of the population or when previously inactive people register as available for work.

“There was an unexpected rise in unemployment between the third and fourth quarters of 2017, but closer inspection suggests this is not a sign of labour market weakness as it was also accompanied by a healthy rise in total employment, focused on full-time jobs,” said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC.

“Instead, it reflects more previously inactive people seeking work, some of them finding jobs and others still searching and so being classified as unemployed.”

Ian Brinkley, Acting Chief Economist from the CIPD, which represents human resources professions said while the surprise rise in unemployment was a warning that the UK labour market could be running out of steam “there are reasons to believe that this is a one-off, as opposed to the beginning of a larger employment crisis.


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