By Jonathan Davies

The UK unemployment rate fell to 5.5% in the first three months of 2015, with the employment rate rising to its highest ever figure, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The number of unemployed people fell 35,000 to 1.83 million. But the employment rate rose to 75.3%, the highest comparable rate since records began in 1971.

There were 31.10 million people in work, 202,000 more than for October to December 2014 and 564,000 more than for a year earlier.

Wages, including bonuses, were up 1.9%. And without bonuses, pay grew 2.2%. With inflation at zero, people are seeing a confident rise in real-term pay.

Between February and April, the ONS said there were 733,000 job vacancies - 95,000 more than in the same period last year.

New employment minister, Priti Patel, said: "Our long-term economic plan is creating a better, more prosperous future for Britain, with employment at an all-time high and more women in work than ever before. Behind the statistics are countless stories of individual hard work and determination — of people feeling more financially secure with a regular wage.

"I want to continue to ensure our welfare reforms are giving people the skills and opportunities to move into work to give everyone in our country the chance to make the most of their lives."

Chris Bryce, chief executive of self-employment body IPSE, said: “We continue to see strong performance from the labour market with a record number of people in work. Many of the new jobs created have been through people becoming self-employed. We know from our research that the self-employed are overwhelmingly positive about working this way and trends suggest that the number of people going it alone will only continue to grow."