The UK unemployment rate declined in the first quarter despite the recent lockdown, the Office for National Statistics reported Tuesday.

The jobless rate fell 0.3 percentage points to 4.8 percent in the first quarter. This was also below economists’ forecast of 4.9 percent.

At the same time, the employment rate was estimated at 75.2 percent, up 0.2 percentage points from the previous quarter.

Data showed that annual growth in average earnings, including bonuses, came in at 4.0 percent, but below the economists’ forecast of 4.5 percent.

Excluding bonuses, average earnings increased 4.6 percent annually, as expected.

In April, the claimant count rate remained unchanged at 7.2 percent. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits decreased by 15,100 from March.

The number of payroll employees increased for the fifth consecutive month in April, data showed. About 97,000 more people were in payrolled employment when compared with March. Still this was down 772,000 since February 2020.

In three months to April, there were an estimated 657,000 job vacancies, which was a growth of 8.0 percent compared with last quarter.

Today’s data release suggests that the labor market is now on the front foot, Thomas Pugh, an economist at Capital Economics, said.

The unemployment rate may still rise over the rest of this year, but this will probably be due to people re-joining the labor market rather than more people losing their jobs, the economist added.

There is little doubt that there will see a rise in the jobless rate when the furlough scheme ends in September, though the peak is likely to be significantly lower than feared a few months ago, James Smith, an ING economist said.

Smith expects the jobless rate to peak at around 6 percent in the autumn, though things are likely to be improving again by year-end.

The Bank of England forecasts the jobless rate to drop to 5 percent this year, before falling to 4.5 percent next year and 4.25 percent in 2023.

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