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More people looking for work as vacancies fall

About 220,000 more people were seeking work between December and February than in the three months before.  Unemployment rose slightly and job vacancies fell for the ninth time in a row, official figures suggest. However, the figures also showed a rise in the employment rate as more people returned to the jobs market. The latest earnings figures also showed that pay continued to lag rising prices. Annual growth in regular pay, which excludes bonuses, was 6.6% between December and February, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. However, when taking into account the rate of price increases - which is running at its highest for nearly 40 years - regular pay fell by 2.3%. The ONS figures showed that the employment rate edged up to 75.8% in the three months to February. In the same period, the unemployment rate rose to 3.8%, up from 3.7% in the previous three months. Job vacancies fell for the ninth time in a row with companies blaming economic pressures for holding back on hiring new staff. From January to the end of March, the number of vacancies fell by 47,000 from the previous quarter to 1,105,000, although the ONS noted vacancy numbers remained at "very high levels".

Michael Stull, the managing director of employment agency ManpowerGroup, told the BBC's Today programme: "We are starting to see a pullback in demand from employers. However, we're still in a strong position."

"We're seeing more people coming back into the workforce," he added, noting that more over-50s and younger people were returning to the jobs market.

Paul FitzGerald, managing director of Coast & Country Hotels, a chain of 30 hotels across the UK, said recruitment is still a huge challenge, particularly in the hospitality sector.

"The situation is getting a little better, we're seeing some green shoots of improvement, but it's still chronic", he said, adding that vacancies were running at 11% in the business.

"The biggest problem area is chefs. They are in short supply and that's our number one priority," he said.

Reacting to the latest figures, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: "While unemployment remains close to historic lows, rising prices continue to eat into pay cheques which is why halving inflation this year is one of our top economic priorities."

However, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the government was holding the UK back. "Their lack of ambition for Britain is leaving real wages down, families worse off, hundreds of thousands fewer people in work and our economy lagging".

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney said: "The Conservative party's gross mismanagement of the British economy has led to inflation rising and growth plummeting."

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