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Number of UK unemployed rises for 1st time since mid-2015

[LONDON] The number of people unemployed in Britain rose for the first time since mid-2015 in the three months to February, official data showed, suggesting employers were cautious ahead of the country's European Union membership referendum and the introduction of a higher minimum wage.

The figures also showed the number of people in employment rose by only 20,000, its weakest performance, since the three months to June last year, and overall pay gains were at their lowest in a year although the figure was distorted by changes in bonus payments.

Britain's unemployment rate were steady at 5.1 per cent in the three months to February, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday. Economists had expected it to stay at 5.1 per cent for the fourth month in a row.

Economists have linked a recent weakening in Britain's economy to a slowdown in global growth and uncertainty surrounding Britain's EU referendum taking place in June.

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The number of unemployed people in Britain rose by 21,000 in the three months to February, the first increase since the May-July period of last year.

"It's too soon to be certain, but with unemployment up for the first time since mid-2015 - and employment seeing its slowest rise since that period - it's possible that recent improvements in the labour market may be easing off," ONS statistician Nick Palmer said.

Total earnings of workers, including bonuses, rose by an annual 1.8 per cent in the three months to February, slowing from 2.1 per cent in the three months to January. Economists taking part in a Reuters poll had expected growth of 2.3 per cent.

An ONS official said bonuses payed by the financial services sector were lower in February this year than in the same month last year.

Earnings excluding bonuses were up 2.2 per cent on the year in the three months to February, in line with forecasts in a Reuters poll and the same pace as in the three months to January.

REUTERS

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