UK bonuses have hit a record level, passing the previous peak set at the start of the financial crisis.

Employers paid their workers £44.3bn ($58.5bn) in the year to March, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a 4.4% rise on a year ago.

The biggest contributor to this figure was the financial services sector which accounted for £13.9bn.

The ONS data said average bonuses in the financial sector amounted to £13,400 per worker, while the health and social work sector "paid the lowest average bonus per employee at close to zero".

The body added the average bonus across the economy increased to "just under £1,600 per employee", a 2.4% rise compared to the year before.

The UK's total bonus beat the previous high of £42.5bn set in March 2008, months before the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers in September, sparking the global financial crisis.

Bonuses paid in all other sectors of the economy rose at a faster annual rate of 5.4% to £30.4bn.

Nick Palmer, a statistician at the ONS, said: "Although the finance and insurance industry retains the largest share of the total, other industries, particularly among professional and hi-tech business services, have been the biggest drivers of growth since 2008."

Earlier in the year high rewards in other parts of the economy were highlighted when WPP, the world's biggest advertising company, paid its founder and chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell almost £67m in bonuses for last year. Also, at oil major BP, a majority of shareholders opposed chief executive Bob Dudley's bonus-fuelled £14m pay deal, however the vote was only advisory and the reward was handed over.

The data comes in the same week that the ONS also said average weekly earnings including bonuses rose by 2.3% over the three months ending in July, slower than the 2.5% growth recorded the previous month.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The slowdown in wage growth is cause for concern – real wages are only rising because of low inflation.

"Theresa May says she wants an economy that works for everyone. That means a real effort to drive up pay."

Last month it emerged asset manager Woodford Investment Management was one of two asset managers that have decided to stop paying executive bonuses, as they have been found to be "largely ineffective in influencing the right behaviours".