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Economy

French unemployment falls for first time in 16 months

media French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (C), Labour Minister Michel Sapin (R) and Health Minister Marisol Touraine visit the site of a future tramline Reuters/Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool

Unemployment in France fell in August for the first time since April 2011. Labour Minister Michel Sapin denies the right-wing opposition's claim that the figures have been fiddled.

There were 50,000 fewer people looking for work in mainland France in August than in the previous month, according the employment service, Pôle Emploi, an encouraging sign according to Sapin, even if he admitted that it is too early to declare that the upward trend has been reversed.

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Unemployment stood at 3.23 million, according to August's official figures.

But much of the fall was due to 77,500 people being struck off the register because claimants had not kept the service up to date on their situation, as they are obliged to do.

That happens regularly but August's figure was a 38.8 per cent rise on the previous month.

The right-wing opposition UMP claimed that the fall was a "statistical manipulation".

"Many jobs have been financed by taxpayers and this doesn’t mean activity has picked up," commented former Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire. "I believe we need to create jobs in commerce, supporting small businesses, shopkeepers and the trades, jobs that are sustainable and that let people see light at the end of the tunnel."

But Sapin insisted that fewer new claimants signed on in August because there were fewer lay-offs and terminations of short-term contracts.

"It means that fewer temporary contracts are ending and that fewer people are losing their jobs for economic reasons," he said. "It means, therefore, there is more activity and there are more jobs."

But he warned that "just because there's a fall that doesn't mean it's going to rise a month later".

Consumer confidence continued to rise in September, according to the Insee official statistics institute.

After rising two points in August, it rose another point in September, Insee found.

That means that consumer confidence has climbed six points since an all-time low in June but at 85 it remains well below the 100-point average.

Respondents to the institute's poll declared that they were less frightened of losing their jobs and more optimistic about their financial prospects.

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