Belfast Telegraph

It's not just the dole queue we must watch

By David Elliott

Summer time, and the dole queue is easing. So said the latest data feast from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, one which came with more than one reason to be cheerful.

Around 800 fewer people signed on last month compared to May, the biggest monthly fall in 11 years and the ammunition bulls, as they're called in the world of financial markets, needed to talk up their position.

That the headline unemployment also fell by 0.5% was an added bonus and there's even been a fall in the number of 18 to 24-year-olds out of work to warm the cockles of even the hardiest pessimist on this scorching summer's day.

There's no doubt the figures paint a more positive picture of the Northern Ireland economy than we've seen in quite some time, especially coming as they do after Ulster Bank's latest PMI report suggest we're on the cusp of a recovery.

And they chime with the pre-G8 job announcements from Invest NI and others which in one memorable week produced over 1,200 new posts for Northern Ireland. But as always, it's worth digging down into the detail to find if there is indeed a devil lurking in the shadows.

Not that we want to pour cold water on what is essentially good news but just to put a little perspective around the hubbub.

Firstly, it seems we've still a long way to go if we're to catch up with our neighbours because the percentage of people on the dole queue here is the second highest of all UK regions and has been in that position or worse for 39 consecutive months.

Secondly, that old problem called inactivity, economic inactivity to be precise, a measure which places us well and truly in the worst possible position compared to other UK regions.

Another 1,000 people joined that particular group, one which is defined by UK National Statistics as "not in work and do not meet the internationally agreed definition of unemployment. They are people without a job who have not actively sought work in the last four weeks and/or are not available to start work in the next two weeks". A number of reasons could explain this shift: perhaps tighter benefit rules means some of the economically inactive number were until recently part of the claimant count or maybe the end of the university year pushes an influx of students into the system, some who aren't yet ready to tackle the world of work.

Whatever the reason, the high rate of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland remains a big drag on the economy and will continue to dilute any good news from the likes of a reduction in the dole queue. Tackle economic inactivity and we will definitely be on the road to recovery.

Belfast Telegraph