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UK earnings rise again, helping Cameron in election pitch

[LONDON] British workers' earnings grew more than inflation again in October, giving a bit more help to Prime Minister David Cameron to tackle criticism of a cost-of-living crisis ahead of national elections in May.

Official data released on Wednesday also showed the unemployment rate did not fall as expected but remained unchanged at 6.0 percent in the three months to October, matching its lowest level in six years.

In another sign the surge in job creation might be losing some of the momentum seen since mid-2013, a fall of 63,000 unemployed people was the smallest decline since the three months to September last year.

As well as Britain's political leaders, the Bank of England is keeping a close eye on labour costs as it considers when to start raising interest rates from their record low, something expected only well into 2015.

A majority of BoE policymakers think wages need to grow faster to hit their 2 per cent inflation target in the medium term, according to minutes of their December meeting published on Wednesday.

Workers' pay in Britain has only recently shown signs of picking up after lagging inflation for most of the period since the financial crisis, putting the cost of living at the heart of the opposition Labour party's message to voters.

The Office for National Statistics said that in the month of October alone, average weekly earnings excluding bonuses rose by an annual 1.8 per cent, the same as September.

Inflation in October stood at 1.3 per cent before it fell to 1.0 per cent in November, its lowest level in more than 12 years.

The combination of very low inflation and incipient wage growth looks set to extend into 2015, potentially helping Cameron's Conservatives win some credit from voters. "It helps the Conservatives in creating a positive story about where the economy is heading which may help them," said Rob Wood, an economist at Berenberg bank. "But the past is still one of four years of a heavy squeeze on consumers' budgets and that is not going to be erased by six months of gains." Including bonuses, pay also grew by 1.8 per cent in October.

In the August-October period, average weekly earnings, excluding bonuses, rose by 1.6 percent, picking up speed from 1.2 per cent in the three months to September. Total pay, including bonuses, also gathered speed to rise 1.4 per cent.