The number of people in payrolled employment has risen for a third consecutive month despite further lockdown misery for the economy, according to official figures.
Data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed an increase of 68,000 last month.
But the figures also laid bare the toll on people’s livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic to date, with the total down by 693,000 since February 2020 – the month before the first crisis restrictions were imposed, forcing much of the economy into hibernation.
The ONS report showed that it was the young who are continuing to pay the biggest price, making up 61% of those to have lost payrolled employment during the crisis.
It amounted to 437,000 people between the ages of 16 and 24.
Sam Beckett, ONS head of economic statistics, said: “After yet another monthly increase, there were almost 200,000 more employees on payroll in February than three months earlier, although that is still nearly 700,000 down from the start of the pandemic.
“Of the decrease since then, almost two-thirds has been among the under-25s, over half has been in hospitality and almost a third has been in London.”
A separate report on Monday had warned of the risk of “scarring” for younger workers without additional government support to help them get back in the workplace.
The wider ONS figures covering the three months to January also painted a picture of resilience in the face of continuing disruption, driven by renewed government support and the ability of businesses to adapt.
They showed an unexpected fall in the UK jobless rate to 5% from 5.1% the previous month.
Analysts had expected a slight increase due to the effect of a third lockdown for England, which began early in the month.
Average wage growth rose to 4.8% – a fresh March 2008 high.
The ONS said it reflected two factors: a high level of bonuses but also the impact of job losses in low-paid sectors such as retail and hospitality.
They also revealed an easing in the number of vacancies in the economy amid continued uncertainty over the months to come.
Business groups reacted to the figures by saying that government support – including the extension of the furlough scheme until the end of September – had helped keep unemployment from rising further.
Around five million jobs are currently being supported by the taxpayer.
But there was widespread worry over the impact on the young – with the CBI calling for an extension to the Treasury’s Kickstart scheme.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said of the ONS figures: “Coronavirus has caused one of the largest labour market shocks this country has ever faced, which is why protecting, supporting, and creating jobs has been my focus throughout this crisis.
“We have taken decisive action with a £352bn package of support.
“The continued success of the vaccine rollout provides us with hope for the future, and through our Plan for Jobs, we will continue to support people throughout the months to come.”