Belfast Telegraph

Jobless total falls to lowest level for 11 years in Northern Ireland

The number of jobless people in Northern Ireland has seen the biggest monthly fall for more than a decade

The numbers claiming benefit dropped by 800 in June to 63,000,  while the seasonally adjusted rate fell by 0.5% and remains at 7.8%, the same as the average for the entire UK. However, the rate is still almost 1% higher than the 6.9% recorded at the same point last year.

Economy minister Arlene Foster said: "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."

She stressed that the recovery was still fragile and ups and downs should still be expected.

North East 134,000 plus 4,000 10.4%

North West 270,000 minus 18,000 7.8%

Yorkshire and The Humber 249,000 minus 4,000 9.0%

East Midlands 176,000 plus 1,000 7.7%

West Midlands 268,000 plus 15,000 9.8%

East of England 205,000 minus 12,000 6.6%

London 368,000 minus 16,000 8.6%

South East 286,000 minus 20,000 6.3%

South West 156,000 minus 11,000 5.8%

Wales 122,000 plus 1,000 8.2%

Scotland 205,000 plus 8,000 7.5%

Northern Ireland 68,000 minus 4,000 7.8%

 

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: "Our welfare reform agenda is about making a fair and affordable system that incentivises work: giving people the support they need to get off benefits and into a job.

"Today's figures are encouraging, with the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance down and the number of people in work increasing.

"The fall in the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits, together with the news that there are currently over half a million vacancies available in the UK economy, show that there are opportunities out there for those who are prepared to work hard, and who aspire to get on in life."

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "The scale of the waste of human talent that continues into the sixth year of this recession is a direct result of the coalition's economic policy choices.

"If the Government had stuck with Alistair Darling's spending plans the UK economy, like in the USA, would now be recovering with more jobs, and borrowing and the deficit would be falling."

ave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, said: "Small relief in the unemployment figures will be no comfort to those struggling with the misery of long-term unemployment.

"Every job lost is a personal tragedy and the Government has to do more to tackle the persistent jobs crisis.

"Stopping the slew of job losses from the public sector and giving Britain a pay rise to get people spending is what our economy needs to recover."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "While today's figures show some welcome small improvements our labour market remains a long way off from a strong recovery.

"Long-term unemployment is at a 17-year high and youth unemployment remains at crisis levels. Those in work are continuing to see the value of their wages pushed down by inflation, as the biggest squeeze in living standards for over a century continues. In some regions unemployment is still rising.

"Today's figures also suggest that the super-rich have successfully managed to postpone their bonuses to avoid paying the 50p tax rate, which was abolished in this year, as after peaking in April bonus pay in the financial and business sector has fallen back."

University and College Union president Simon Renton said: "The facts behind today's figures are that more than one in five - almost a million - young people are out of work. Research shows us the destructive impact not working or training has on young people's mental health and we need to provide them with decent jobs or routes to training and education.

"If we don't improve opportunities for our young people, we risk relegating hundreds of thousands of them to the periphery of society."

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "Today's figures show a further improvement in the labour market in Wales, which has again performed better than the UK as a whole, and are consistent with other economic data and business survey results which have shown some positive signs in recent months."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "With employment rising and unemployment falling, the labour market remains an area of strength for the UK economy. There are some areas of concern, however. Long-term unemployment is up, and youth unemployment, while edging down, is still too high. But at a time when the Government's austerity plan remains in force and the public sector is shrinking, it is reassuring that the private sector is willing and able to create jobs.

"The Government and the Bank of England can do more to help businesses continue creating jobs."

Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: "The latest labour market figures are positive without being too exciting. Employment is up by 16,000 and the claimant count measure of unemployment is down 21,000. This suggests the recovery is feeding through into the jobs market, but that it will still feel like a jobless recovery for some time yet."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: "Any shred of progress on jobs is welcome but today's figures show that economic recovery is so weak that pay is plummeting.

"Job creation is now so sluggish that pay packets are getting hammered in the longest squeeze since the 1870s. Those in work are working harder and earning less - £1,350 a year less than they were in 2010 - in fact workers are earning today the same as they made in 2000. We are now creating jobs ten times more slowly than this time last year and there are more part-timers looking for full time work than ever before.

"Worse, it's now clear the Government's so-called welfare revolution has collapsed.

"Three years into this Parliament, there are now more people unemployed long term than at any time since 1996. No wonder George Osborne says the Work Programme is underperforming.

"The Government's welfare reform has failed. We have nearly a million young people out of work and nearly a million people locked out of work long term - half of those for two years or more."

Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that the unemployment figures were welcome, with "encouraging signs" on employment growth, some of it because of extra resources being spent by the Government on apprenticeships.

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