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Employment gap between Northern Ireland and rest of UK hits new high

By John Mulgrew

Published 13/08/2015

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey

The chasm between Northern Ireland and the UK's unemployment has grown to its highest level in more than a decade.

While the number of people on the dole in Northern Ireland fell by 400 last month, the overall unemployment level rose by 1,000 in the last quarter.

And the gap between the fortunes of Northern Ireland's job market and the rest of the UK has now widened to its greatest level in 12 years, according to Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey.

"In many ways, looking at the big picture in terms of the Northern Ireland economy, not only is our recovery lagging, it's showing we have been continuously lagging behind the rest of the UK.

"And not only are we lagging, it seems as if we are pulling away from the UK."

The number of people unemployed here rose by 1,000 in the three months to June this year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - sitting at 6.5%.

The number of people claiming unemployment related benefits dropped by 400 last month, and decreased by 9,400 over the year to 43,500 in July 2015.

That's according to the latest Labour Market Report.

June saw the first rise in the number of people joining dole queues here in more than two years - which was attributed to a weakening in Northern Ireland's labour market. There was an increase in numbers of those claiming unemployment benefit in June of 200 to 44,000.

And the latest figures have also been described as a "cause for concern for those of us with an interest in the economic success of Northern Ireland", according to Ulster Unionist MLA Ross Hussey.

Northern Ireland's unemployment rate of 6.5% remains well above the UK average of 5.6%. According to Mr Ramsey, that could be set to rise further heading into 2016.

Meanwhile, the rate of long term unemployment stood at 58.6%. That's an increase on the previous year. Mr Ramsey said Northern Ireland's labour market appeared to be "on the turn" and was still yet to face the impact from public sector cuts in the coming months.

"The labour market is on the turn at a time when there are still a lot of challenges to be dealt with.

"In regards to the dole queue, while it fell, the rate of decline has been easing over the last number of months.

"It's going to be more difficult going forward. The sustained improvement seems to have run out of steam."

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said while the decrease in the number of claimants of unemployment-related benefits in July was welcomed, two quarterly increases in the number of those unemployed "reiterate the continued challenges faced by the Northern Ireland labour market and the impact of continued uncertainty in global markets".

UK-wide unemployment levels also increased for the second month in a row, reaching 1.85m.

The jobless total went up by 25,000 in the quarter to June, the first time there have been two consecutive rises for two years.

Belfast Telegraph

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