British unemployment has stopped rising

You need to whisper this quietly because there are all sorts of uncertainties surrounding the data, but UK unemployment appears to have stopped rising. How so, when the official figures published today show unemployment rose by 88,000 in the three months to August compared with the previous three months? The same publication also shows the official unemployment rate rose from 7.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent over the same period.

Well, the Office for National Statistics publishes unemployment figures on a rolling quarterly basis. Last month the numbers covered May to July, this month the statistics compare June to August relative to the three previous months.

The headline unemployment number for May to July was 2.47m and the average between June and August is 2.469m, a tiny drop. The published unemployment rate last month was 7.9 per cent – the same as this month. The average level of employment is also higher between June and August than it was between May and July, although the 61,000 gain is well within statistical margins for error.

All this is thoroughly good, if tentative news. Again, it suggests the British labour market is performing much better than anyone could have thought given the deep, deep recession.

UPDATE: 12:30

I have just spoken to the statistician in charge of the Labour Force Survey at the ONS, asking whether the above analysis is dodgy. He view was that you had to be careful, due to small sample sizes, but there was certainly something in it. He pointed me to a little-read ONS paper, which shows that it is most likely that the May figures were outliers and the August figures more in line. The upshot is that it does appear, tentatively that British unemployment has stopped rising.

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