Unemployment has risen unexpectedly to 6 per cent after an estimated 7,900 jobs were lost in January.
The result came as a surprise to most analysts, who had been expecting recent positive trends in jobs growth to continue.
A Reuters survey of 19 economists showed that the typical forecast was for unemployment to stay steady at 5.8 per cent and 15,000 jobs to have been added last month.
The worst feature of today's figures was a 40,600-strong decrease in full-time employment, partly offset by an increase in part-time jobs of 32,700.
Participation - which measures the proportion of the adult population in work or looking for it - remained steady at a rate of 65.2 per cent.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.