Belfast Telegraph

Foster hails fall in unemployment

The largest drop in unemployment rates in Northern Ireland for more than a decade is welcome news for the region's economy, a Stormont minister has said.

Economy minister Arlene Foster gave the optimistic forecast after it was announced the number of people claiming unemployment benefit last month fell by 800 - the largest monthly reduction since August 2002.

There has been a 1,900 fall in claimant numbers in the last five months, with the number now sitting at 63,000. The actual unemployment rate dropped by 0.5% in the last quarter to 7.8%. However, the rate is still almost 1% higher than the 6.9% recorded at the same point last year.

"The decrease in the Northern Ireland unemployment rate is positive news, not only for those who have found employment but for the Northern Ireland economy as a whole," said Mrs Foster.

"The unemployment rate is now the same as that of the UK (7.8%) and compares favourably to the equivalent rates in the European Union (11.0%) and Republic of Ireland (13.5%). The more recent unemployment benefit figures for June indicate that this has been the largest single monthly decrease in the number of people in receipt of such benefits since August 2002, which is also very welcome.

"The number of people on the unemployment register has been falling for the past five months and there are 1,900 fewer unemployment benefit recipients now than at the start of the year. While we would wish to see even more people leaving unemployment, the current labour market indicators suggest that some progress is being made on this front."

Consultants PwC said the figures suggested that Northern Ireland is beginning to experience recovery - albeit a very slow and limited one. Dr Esmond Birnie, PwC chief economist in Northern Ireland, noted that people deemed economically inactive had actually increased over the last quarter to 27.5%.

He added: "So, while the Northern Ireland economy may be taking tentative steps towards recovery it is important to understand that a cyclical upswing, however welcome and long awaited, need not indicate that the underlying structural problems of the economy have gone away."

Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said the region's economy could be at a "turning point".

"The local labour market continues to improve with a hefty and very welcome fall in monthly claimants," she said. "The economic environment has improved in Quarter 2 this year with global conditions much better this year relative to last. Even some local economic indicators such as the latest average house price rise of 1.9% suggest that the economy is at a turning point."

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