LONDON: British unemployment dipped to 4.8% in the first quarter, official data showed Tuesday, helped by the UK government’s jobs furlough scheme keeping millions in work during the pandemic.

That compared with 4.9% in the three months to the end of February, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

Britain’s government is paying the bulk of wages for millions of private-sector workers during the coronavirus pandemic, while economists expect the rate to surge once the furlough scheme ends later this year.

Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, meanwhile noted that employee numbers rose strongly in April as the economy began to reopen, continuing the improvement from its November trough.

At the same time, there remained 750,000 fewer people on the payroll compared with the pre-pandemic peak, he added.

“With many businesses reopening, the recent recovery in job vacancies continued into April, especially in sectors such as hospitality and entertainment,“ said Morgan.

Capital Economics analyst Thomas Pugh said the slight fall in the unemployment rate “suggests that the government’s job furlough scheme is still insulating the labour market from the worst effects of the pandemic”. — AFP