Unemployment levels in Northern Ireland have dropped below the UK average with a sixth successive monthly fall in the number of jobless people claiming benefits, official figures have revealed.
The decrease was not accompanied with a boost to the numbers in work, as the employment rate also fell in the last quarter. However, there was an increase in the number of people of working age classed as economically inactive as they were unable to look for work.
In the second quarter of the year the unemployment rate decreased by 0.7% to 7.5%, bringing it just below the overall UK rate of 7.8%, which remained unchanged between April and July. There were 797,000 people in employment by the end of the last quarter, with an employment rate of 66.3%. This rate decreased by 0.3% over the quarter and 0.8% over the year.
The regional employment rate was below the UK average of 71.5%, which increased by 0.1% over the quarter and 0.4% over the year.
Last month the number of unemployment benefit claimants in Northern Ireland decreased by 500 to 62,400. There was a fall of 2,500 in the claimant figures over the last six months, though the figure is still 1.3% higher than the same time last year.
The region's claimant count rate of 6.9% was still the joint highest among the 12 UK regions, with a national average of 4.3%.
July was the 40th consecutive month that Northern Ireland had the highest or second highest UK regional unemployment rate using the claimant measure.
While the unemployment rate fell over the quarter, the number of working age people classed as economically inactive increased by 10,000. These include students, family carers and those classed sick or disabled. The regional inactivity rate of 28.2% remained above the UK average of 22.3% and was the highest among the 12 UK regions.
Stormont's Economy Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the decreased unemployment rate.
She said: "This also compares favourably to the equivalent rates in the European Union (11%) and Republic of Ireland (13.6%). The more recent unemployment benefit figures for July continue to show encouraging signs as this is the sixth consecutive monthly decrease, the first time this level of sustained decrease has occurred for nearly six years."