Belfast Telegraph

Dole queues in Northern Ireland shorten but pay squeeze hits home

By John Mulgrew

Unemployment queues in Northern Ireland have been cut by around 600 people, but the number of people working has fallen slightly, according to new figures.

The latest Labour Force Survey (LFS) shows that the employment rate decreased by 0.1% over the last quarter, while unemployment and economic inactivity rates remain unchanged.

But, the more recent figure for the number of people claiming unemployment related benefits stood at 30,500 in June 2017.

Northern Ireland's unemployment rate still stands at 5.3% -which is just above the UK average of 4.5%. According to the latest figures, there were 66 confirmed redundancies in June 2017.

And over the last year to June 30, there was a 30% decrease in the number of confirmed redundancies.

That's down from 3,217 in the previous year to 2,267.

According to Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey the "labour market is relatively strong but weakening".

"The consumer squeeze will impact on job creation in consumer-sensitive sectors going forward," he said.

Overall, the claimant count has fallen by 34,300 since its recent peak in February 2013.

In some regions - in Fermanagh and Omagh - it has fallen by as much as 5.8%.

Other strong performing areas include Mid and East Antrim, which saw numbers fall by 3.3%, and Ards and North Down, which had a 3% drop.

However, Lisburn and Castlereagh saw dole queues increasing by 0.7%, with 1,370 claiming in June.

Ulster University economist Dr Esmond Birnie said there is a "strong sense of 'better than expected but for how long can this continue'?" with the latest figures.

"The claimant count is down 600, but many other indicators suggest a definite slow down, so at some point unemployment could start rising again," he said.

Meanwhile across the UK as a whole, the pay squeeze on households remains, with wage growth continuing to fall behind inflation despite the unemployment rate hitting a 42-year low.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that average earnings eked out the weakest growth since November 2014, at 1.8% in May, dropping back by 0.3% compared to the month before.

While pay growth, excluding bonuses, managed a 2% rise over the period, an increase of 0.2% month-on-month, it failed to keep pace with the recent jump in the cost of living.

Inflation marched to its highest level in nearly four years at 2.9% in May, with the Bank of England expecting it to peak at 3% by the autumn.

Despite the gloomy update for consumers, the jobs market remained a bright spot for the UK economy.

The unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since 1975 at 4.5%. Unemployment dropped by 64,000 to 1.49 million in the three months to May, the lowest level since 2005.

Matt Hughes, ONS senior statistician, said: "The general picture is little changed on last month, with the overall employment rate and that for women both at record highs, the inactivity rate at a joint record low and the unemployment rate falling to its lowest since the early summer of 1975."

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