Northern Ireland’s dole queues lengthened again last month and experts predict unemployment could continue to rise throughout the first half of 2010.
Figures released by the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment showed there were 1,400 more people claiming for Jobseekers Allowance in January, taking the claimant count to 56,100 or 6.4% of the workforce.
This was the biggest jump in people signing on for benefits since August 2009 and well above the revised increase of 700 in December.
All 12 UK regions recorded an increase in claimant levels to January 2010, with the UK-wide figures rising 23,500 to reach 1.64 million — the highest level since Labour came to power in 1997.
The overall UK unemployment rate for the October to December quarter was unchanged at 7.8% or 2.46 million after a slight fall of 3,000.
At 6%, or 49,000, the Northern Ireland rate was below the UK average over the quarter. It also remained lower than the most recent European Union (9.5%) and Republic of Ireland (12.9%) rates.
However, the more recent claimant count is of greater concern, particularly as hundreds more redundancies will show up in the figures in coming months as firms such as Hughes Christensen, Avaya and Arntz Belting axe jobs.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “The latest monthly increase in claimants was the largest for several months, both in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK, and these results emphasise that the ongoing impact of the economic downturn is still very much with us.”
Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey said that while the recession may be at an end in the technical sense, the human recession will continue throughout 2010 and into 2011.
“The latest increase supports our view that there will be a secondary surge in unemployment in the first half of 2010. As a result, the unemployment register is expected to rise to around 62,500 later this year. This would bring the number of unemployed back to mid-1997 levels,” he said.
Northern Bank chief economist Angela McGowan added: “A combination of the slow recovery and forthcoming public sector job cuts suggest that over the medium and long run, local unemployment will most probably remain relatively high, above 55,000, with no return to the exceptionally low levels experienced earlier in the decade.”
Seasonally adjusted estimates for the three months to December 2009 showed that there were 765,000 people in employment in Northern Ireland.