Union leaders havae described the labour market as “still fragile” as the Government waited for any signs of continued jobs recovery in new unemployment figures.
Unemployment surprisingly fell by 7,000 in the quarter to November to just below 2.5 million, while the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance was 15,200 lower in December at 1.6 million.
But thousands of job losses have been announced in recent weeks, raising fears that unemployment will start to climb again in the run-up to the general election.
Birmingham City Council is planning 2,000 job cuts, Bosch has confirmed 900 losses in south Wales and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development this week warned of increased redundancies, especially in the public sector.
The TUC said it will be looking for a number of key signs in today’s figures, including a fall of more than 30,000 in unemployment and a reduction in the number of “involuntary” temporary workers.
There has been a big increase in people taking temporary or part-time jobs because they can’t find permanent work, said the TUC.
General secretary Brendan Barber said: “Recent unemployment figures have been encouraging and show Government action to stem the jobs crisis is working. Investment is the best way to secure a sustained economic recovery and cutting back on spending now could still unleash a double dip recession and send unemployment soaring.
“But even if the jobs figures are slowly improving, hundreds of thousands of people across the UK are still out of work, with many more job losses announced in the past week, and for each of them this recession remains a personal tragedy.
“The TUC is also concerned that job statistics could be making the market look deceptively healthy - a closer look suggests that thousands of people are taking part-time or temporary jobs because they cannot secure full-time positions.
"A growth in insecure and low-paid employment at the expense of secure work is not good news for them or for the economy.”
The Government announced today that over half a million people had been helped into work through local employment partnerships, including 200,000 since last September.
Employment minister Jim Knight said: “The fact that unemployment is around half a million less than was expected at this time is a tribute to employers, staff and Government working together to prevent long term unemployment.
“In particular I’d like to thank the more than 50,000 employers and our Jobcentre Plus staff for their success in local employment partnerships that has now helped over half a million people into jobs.
“There is more we can do together and I’d urge more employers to join this successful scheme with their local Jobcentre.”
The Federation of Small Business (FSB) complained yesterday that taxes have prevented almost three out of five small firms recruiting more staff.
The picture was worse in the South East, where two thirds of smaller companies said taxes had a “negative” impact on jobs.
A survey of almost 10,000 firms showed that those in the North West and London also had above average complaints about the effect of taxes on employment.
The FSB said it was concerned that a temporary boost to employment over Christmas was coming to an end and urged the Government to freeze National Insurance contributions and introduce an NI rebate for small firms.
Meanwhile, the number of people unable to work as many hours as they want increased sharply during the recession, official figures showed yesterday.
A total of 2.8 million people were classed as “under-employed” in the three months to September, up from 2.1 million in the same quarter in 2007, said the Office for National Statistics.
The figure does not cover the true scale of the problem as some full-time staff might still be looking for more work, said the report.
Almost 10% of the workforce is now classed as under-employed, compared with a rate of 6.6% in 2005, with most of the increase happening during the recession.
There was a “relatively sharp” rise in unemployment and under-employment in 2008 and 2009.
Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb said: “Ministers are guilty of playing down the impact of the recession on working people by ignoring under-employment.
“While labour market flexibility has prevented an explosion in unemployment during this recession, one in 10 people who want more hours can’t find enough work. This can have a devastating financial impact on them and their families.”