Figures show that British average earnings growth unexpectedly eased in the three months to March while the unemployment rate fell in April to its lowest since late 2005.

The Office for National Statistics said average earnings including bonuses rose 4.5% in the first three months of the year, dipping from 4.6% in the previous period. Excluding bonuses, however, earnings growth accelerated slightly to 3.7% from 3.6%.

The easing in overall earnings growth may calm concerns among Bank of England policymakers about the risks to inflation from rising wages and could raise expectations that interest rates have peaked at 5.5%.

The number of people claiming jobless benefit fell by a larger than expected 15,700 in April, more than three times the amount forecast by analysts. That was the seventh consecutive fall and took the claimant count jobless rate down to 2.8% - its lowest since November 2005.

But the internationally-recognised ILO jobless rate steadied at 5.5 percent and its measure of the number of people unemployed rose 13,000 in the three months period to January.