THOUSANDS more people in Fife were claiming unemployment benefits last month than a year previously, figures reveal.

Office for National Statistics data shows 14,830 people were claiming out-of-work benefits as of mid-February, up from 14,255 in January.

It was also well above the 8,765 claimants recorded a year previously.

It means 6.4 per cent of Fife's working-age population sought support in February – up from 3.8 per cent 12 months earlier.

The figures include those aged 16 to 64 on Jobseeker’s Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, who are unemployed and seeking work or employed but with low earnings.

Those on benefits last month were among roughly 213,325 across Scotland.

National figures, which are adjusted to account for seasonal changes, show around 2.7 million people across the UK were seeking help in February – up from 2.6 million in January, and the highest number since comparable records began in 2008.

The ONS cautioned that changes to Universal Credit in response to the virus mean more people can get the benefits while still being employed, which could affect the figures.

It also said a small number of people who can claim both JSA and UC could be counted twice.

The Centre for Cities said the furlough scheme has helped prevent even sharper rises in the number of claimants.

Separate ONS figures show the UK's jobless rate fell for the first time since the pandemic struck, despite the latest lockdown shutting large parts of the economy.

The rate of unemployment dropped to 5 per cent in the three months to January, down from 5.1 per cent in the previous three months, and below the 5.2 per cent expected by economists.

The number of workers on payrolls in February also increased for the third month in a row, but there were still 693,000 fewer payrolled workers than in February 2020.

More than half of that fall was in the hospitality sector, while under-25s accounted for more than 60 per cent of the total drop over the past year.

The Institute for Employment Studies said the labour market has started to turn the corner, with unemployment appearing to have peaked for now.