LONDON (Reuters) — Britain's unemployment rate dipped to its lowest level in over a decade and pay growth rose, showing the labour market was holding up despite a broader slowdown ahead of next week's vote on Britain's future in Europe.
The number of unemployed fell 20,000 in the three months to April to 1.671 million, taking the unemployment rate to 5.0 per cent, its lowest since the three months to October 2005, the Office for National Statistics said.
Economists in a Reuters poll had expected the unemployment rate to be steady at 5.1 per cent.
The number of people in work rose by 55,000, keeping the employment rate at a record high of 74.2 per cent.
Britain's economy lost momentum in the first quarter of the year, hurt by uncertainty around the June 23 referendum on Britain's membership on the European Union, but the labour market has largely withstood the broader slowdown.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has said the most recent weakness in economic growth reflects the forthcoming vote, and that the economy could even tip into recession if Britain votes to leave the EU.
Workers' earnings excluding bonuses rose by 2.3 per cent year-on-year in the three months to April against expectations for a 2.1 per cent rise and up from 2.2 per cent in the three months to March.
In April alone, regular pay growth jumped to 2.5 per cent from 1.9 per cent in March, the biggest rise since August last year. The ONS said the jump was partly due to the introduction of a new higher minimum wage in April, which particularly affected the retail sector.
Total pay including bonuses rose by an annual 2.0 per cent, unchanged from the previous three months. Economists taking part in a Reuters poll had expected growth of 1.7 per cent.
Wages largely lagged the broader economic recovery in recent years, but the BoE is watching for signs of stronger pay growth as it considers when to raise rates from their record low, which economists expect will only happen next year.
The BoE has said it would treat economic data around next week's referendum with caution. It will probably have to juggle a potential slump in growth against inflationary pressures from a fall in the value of sterling if Britain votes to leave the EU.
The government introduced a new, compulsory National Living Wage of 7.20 pounds an hour for workers aged 25 and above in April, a 50 pence rise on the existing minimum wage.
Inflation has been subdued in recent months after hitting a 15-month high in March. In May, the BoE forecast inflation would stay below one per cent until almost the end of the year and would undershoot its target until 2018.
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