As the new Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition began its first full day in office the scale of the task ahead was brought into sharp focus with the release of the latest official unemployment statistics.
The number of people unemployed in the UK rose by 53,000 to 2.51 million during the three months to March, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The unemployment total is now at its highest level since December 1994.
But the data showed the number of people claiming unemployment benefit fell in April by 27,100 to 1.52 million – a bigger drop than expected.
The rate of unemployment remains at 8%.
Following the publication of the “disappointing” figures, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) called on the new Government to focus on job creation and on boosting the UK’s flexible labour market.
REC Chief Executive Kevin Green said: “The latest unemployment figures are one of the first indicators that the new Government has on the state of the economy and the fragility of the jobs market. Reducing unemployment and creating jobs should be the central priority of this new administration. Our flexible jobs market has already ensured that unemployment has not reached the levels seen in other European countries and will play a major role in helping people back into work.”
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development called the figures “dire”.
CIPD Chief Economic Adviser John Philpott said: “If David Cameron’s incoming Coalition Government wanted reminding about the economic policy challenge that lies ahead, Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers need look no further than today’s dire official jobs figures. Higher unemployment (including more unemployed young people), fewer people in work (especially full-time work), an increase in redundancies, a fall in job vacancies, and especially a record number of economically inactive people sends out a clear SOS message on the state of the UK labour market.
“How to combine the critically important task of cutting the fiscal deficit with meeting the equally important challenge of restoring full employment will provide Mr Cameron and his coalition partners with their sternest test. The rhetoric of ‘getting Britain working again’ is about to meet reality.”