The pace of decline in Britain's labour market slowed in June, official data showed today although the figures did not include a recent slew of job losses caused by the coronavirus's hit to the economy. 

Early indicators suggested that the number of employees on companies' payrolls was down by 649,000 between March and June.

The largest falls were seen at the start of the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics said.

But Britain's unemployment rate unexpectedly held at 3.9% in the three months to May. 

A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a rise in the unemployment rate to 4.2%. 

An ONS official said the unemployment rate had been held down by around half a million people who were away from work because of the pandemic and receiving no pay, but who said they believed they still had a job. 

Even so, the number of people in employment in the three months to May fell by the most since 2011, down 126,000, driven mostly by self-employed people, the ONS said. 

There was another sign of the weakness in the labour market in the number of vacancies which fell in the three months to June to the lowest level since the data series began in 2001 at 333,000.

This was 23% lower than the previous record low in 2009. 

Finance minister Rishi Sunak last week announced a new £30 billion round of measures to stem an expected surge in unemployment, including the payment of bonuses to companies which take back furloughed workers. 

But since then a string of companies have announced layoff plans ranging from private security company G4S to retailers Boots and John Lewis.