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UK jobless rate hits lowest in more than 5 years


U.K. unemployment fell to its lowest level in over five years, while wage growth in the country rose by more than inflation for the first time since 2010.

The rate of unemployment in the three months to March slid to 6.8 percent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Wednesday. This marked its lowest level since the three months to February 2009.

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Pay including bonuses was 1.7 percent higher than a year earlier in the three months to March, the ONS said, meaning it rose more than inflation. In March, consumer prices rose 1.6 percent year-on-year.

However this was lower than expected, and excluding bonuses, wage growth slowed from 1.4 percent in the three months to February to 1.3 percent in the three months to March.

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Ian Stewart, chief economist at professional services firm Deloitte, said that Britain's "job-rich recovery" was still not feeding through to boost consumer spending power.

"But today's strong jobs numbers signal that we are close to a turning point. We expect to see real earnings rise in the second half of 2014 for the first time in more than four years," he added.

A rise in self-employed people helped drive the jobless numbers down, according to the ONS, with 722,000 more people in work between January and March than a year earlier.

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Meanwhile, youth unemployment over the period fell to 19.0 percent, from 19.1 percent over the previous three months, hitting its lowest level since 2009.

The unemployment data follow a string of data releases that suggest the U.K.'s economy is picking up steam.

Read MoreUK economy grows for fifth straight quarter

In the first quarter of this year, Britain posted gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 0.8 percent quarter-on-quarter. In addition, figures published Friday revealed that manufacturing output continued to grow in March, while a pickup in exports saw the trade deficit narrow.

Last week, the BoE opted to leave left interest rates and asset purchases unchanged at its monetary policy meeting, although these signs of a strengthening recovery and fears over house price rises have led some to call for a rate hike sooner rather than later.

The Bank of England's inflation Report, also due to be published Wednesday, will be closely watched for any indications of an interest rate hike this year.