LONDON (Reuters) - The number of Britons in work hit a new all-time high late last year and the number of people claiming unemployment benefit fell much more than expected in January, official data showed on Wednesday.
The Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee was split 6-3 on more bond purchases earlier this month, unexpectedly reviving the prospect that the central bank might restart its quantitative easing programme.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH, WORK AND PENSIONS SECRETARY
"What's really important in the figures today ... is that the long term unemployment has fallen," Duncan Smith told Sky TV.
"We've got more people in work than ever before, women's unemployment is falling and overall claimant count is falling so in difficult times this is a remarkable set of figures."
"It's a pat on the back for British industry and the private sector because these are private sector jobs, not public sector jobs."
SAMUEL TOMBS, CAPITAL ECONOMICS
"February's UK MPC minutes provide another clear demonstration of the committee's increasingly flexible approach to inflation targeting. No member voted for tighter policy, despite the fact that the latest Inflation Report forecasts showed inflation on track to be well above the 2 percent target in two years' time.
"And three members - Mervyn King, Paul Fisher and David Miles - voted for a 25 billion pound extension to QE. What's more, other policy options, including cutting bank rate further and reducing the marginal rate of remuneration on banks' reserves, continued to be discussed by the Committee.
"Today's minutes have therefore made us more comfortable with our view that more QE is likely this year, particularly if GDP growth continues to fall short of the Committee's expectations.
"Elsewhere, the latest labour market data indicate that the improving trend in employment shows no imminent signs of slowing. Employment rose by 154,000 in the three months to December, while the claimant count measure of unemployment fell by a further 12,500 in January. But the price of this resilience has been extremely weak growth in average earnings. Indeed, the dip in the headline rate of average earnings growth excluding bonuses from 1.4 percent to 1.3 percent in December suggests that real pay is now falling at an annual pace of more than 1 percent.
ALAN CLARKE, SCOTIABANK
"This kind of signal is designed to quash people speculating about rate hikes. When you've got the Bank of England forecasting inflation above target for the two years ahead, you don't want people to start speculating about rate hikes or tightening or the end of stimulus. They discussed other policy measures such as cutting remuneration of reserves at the Bank but there were still drawbacks. It's clearly still got a dovish slant to it, but when you're seeing 154,000, it's not all doom and gloom out there."
ROB WOOD, BERENBERG BANK:
"The labour market continues to defy gravity, with employment posting a solid increase in December despite little evidence yet of any real momentum in the economy... This is obviously good news for those people gaining employment. On the other hand, wage growth remains very weak - 1.3 percent year-on-year excluding bonuses - so total earnings aren't rising that fast and with little momentum we don't think this strong employment growth is likely to continue through this year."
(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian, Clare Hutchinson and Stephen Addison)