UNEMPLOYMENT RATE REACHES NEW HIGH –  The Office for National Statistics (ONS) sees a 22.3% inactivity rate in working-age people

The unemployment rate has unexpectedly risen to its highest level for two and a half years, official figures show.

The rate climbed to 4.4% from February to April this year, up from the previous figure of 4.3% and the highest since September 2021.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also said there was another increase in the inactivity rate, with 22.3% of working-age people deemed not to be actively looking for work.

Wage growth remained strong, with regular pay rising at an annual pace of 6%.

Earnings are continuing to increase faster than inflation, the rate at which prices rise.

Economists were expecting an uptick in pay because of an increase in the National Living Wage in April.

For people aged 21 and over, it rose to £11.44 an hour, up 9.8% from last year.

While the ONS has urged caution about the figures because its survey sample is small, they are backed up by the more recent figures on employers’ payrolls, which show the number of employees dropped by 36,000 between March and April, and continued to drop in May.

The number of job vacancies also fell, down by 9,000 to 904,000

The data will be studied by the Bank of England to help decide in the timing of its first interest rate cut since the start of the covid period.