Unemployment is on the rise for the first time in a year while the statistics point to a sharp fall in the number of women at work.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the data could suggest that the recovery in the labour market was “easing off”.
A jump of 21,000 in the jobless total was recorded between December and February to 1.7 million – Taking the UK’s unemployment to 5.1%.
There was the first monthly rise since last August in the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits.
In March the total rose by 6,700 to 732,100, the ONS said while average annual wage growth was static at 2.2%.
The results show the biggest quarterly fall in women’s employment for five years, with the total falling 40,000 between December and February to 14.6 million. ONS statistician Nick Palmer said: “It’s too soon to be certain but with unemployment up for the first time since mid-2015 and employment seeing its slowest rise since that period, it’s possible that recent improvements in the labour market may be easing off”.
Other official figures and closely-watched activity surveys have pointed to an easing in the UK’s GDP growth in the first quarter of 2016 after growth of 0.6% was recorded in the final three months of 2016.
Jeremy Cook, chief economist at the international payments company World First, said: “The first quarter of 2016 has seen structured economic data become a depressant and it is likely that Q1 (first quarter) was the weakest in growth terms since 2013 with expectations that businesses and consumers may suspend spending and investment decisions through Q2 as the referendum vote closes in.
“Unemployment data from the UK has been one of the few bright spots in recent months but survey and anecdotal data has shown that this maybe starting to dull.”