Belfast Telegraph

Three of UK's worst jobless blackspots are in Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland's benefits blackspots have been revealed in a new government report.

It shows how parts of the region have some of the worst unemployment figures in the UK.

Three areas feature on a list of the 10 parliamentary constituencies with the highest proportion of claimants.

Foyle - where almost one in 10 are out of work - is ranked third.

West Belfast and North Belfast also feature in the top 10.

The details, compiled by the House of Commons library using last month's data from the Office for National Statistics, provides a clear insight into the extent of welfare dependency in some parts of the UK.

Four areas in Birmingham are in the top 10, making the city the UK's benefits capital.

It has been notorious for its deprivation, becoming the focus of the 2014 Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street.

Birmingham Ladywood topped the list, with 10.3% of residents receiving unemployment benefits.

Foyle had a claimant rate of 8.7%, and is listed third. West Belfast was seventh on 7.4% while North Belfast was 10th, with a rate of 6.8%.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who is an MLA for Foyle, said it was further evidence that the north-west region was disadvantaged.

"These statistics once again add weight to our argument for further investment in infrastructure, jobs and services in the North West," he said. "But it isn't just historical neglect that's disadvantaged Derry, from 2011 to 2014 Foyle received just 2.63% of the total financial assistance available from Invest NI. Belfast, by contrast, received over 40%.

"What's needed is regional economic equality. I was working on a Private Member's Bill to deliver that before the collapse of the institutions. Too many families live in poverty, too many young people are forced to leave for work or study, this has all gone on for too long.

"And when the next wave of welfare reform crashes down on families here, the situation will be even worse.

"Addressing this issue is critical. Expanding the university at Magee is critical. It's another reason to get a government up and running as soon as possible."

West Belfast has consistently had one of the highest rates of benefits claims. Around one in five people there are on Disability Living Allowance.

Referring to the latest report, West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said the area had suffered decades of neglect and lack of investment.

"The higher number of claimants in west Belfast is a legacy of decades of conflict with the mental and physical anguish that arose from it," he said.

"It is also an area that has suffered decades of discrimination, neglect and deliberate under-investment. That is now being compounded by the relentless austerity policies being pursued by the British Tory government.

"Sinn Fein wants the full transfer of fiscal powers to the North so we can overturn decades of discrimination and deprivation by British governments."

Earlier this week, official figures showed unemployment in Northern Ireland had fallen for the 12th month in a row.

Some 300 people came off the register in March, putting the jobless total at 31,500.

The Northern Ireland unemployment rate dropped to 5.2% - the lowest it has been since last 2008 - but still above the UK average (4.7%).

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