Unemployment in Northern Ireland is still on the rise, with the number of people claiming benefits jumping again last month, figures released yesterday show.
The number of people claiming benefits rose by 1,900 in March to a total of 43,900, according to data from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
However, Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey has forecast that the total number of unemployed people in Northern Ireland will soar to 60,000 by the end of the year and 65,000 by the middle of 2010.
He said: “We anticipate that the numbers claiming unemployment benefit will begin to fall thereafter with the revival of the construction sector and a pick-up in global trade the two key drivers of this. Increasing unemployment and rising levels of economic inactivity will see the headline unemployment rate rise above 8% in the latter part of this year.
“The North West remains the unemployment black spot with Derry and Limavady recording the highest unemployment rates (6.1%) followed by Strabane.”
While the increase was considerable, DETI noted it was the lowest monthly increase in any of the last five months, and compared with a rise of 2,900 a month earlier.
The Northern Ireland unemployment rate jumped to 5.7% or 46,000, a rise of 12,000 in the three months between December and February and a marked increase from the rate of 4.2% in the previous quarter.
Nationally, the number of people across the UK looking for work jumped by 177,000 in the three months to February to reach 2.1 million — the biggest quarterly rise since 1991.
The total is the highest since February 1997, just months before Labour came to power.
Commenting on the local figures, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “The latest labour market results show a marked increase in the unemployment rate over the most recent quarter.
“The number of unemployment benefit claimants increased in March, reflecting the continuing impact of a weak global economy.
“However, our unemployment rate remains below that of the UK and, despite the recent increase, it is still fourth lowest of the UK regions.