Unemployment in Northern Ireland reaches its worst level since 1998
Unemployment in Northern Ireland is at its worst since 1998.
And the jobless figure among youths is higher than the European Union average, official figures show.
The labour force survey from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment shows that unemployment grew 0.7% to 8.5% between November 2012 and January this year, a high last reached at the beginning of 1998, the year of the Good Friday Agreement.
But updated figures on the numbers of people claiming unemployment benefits such as jobseeker's allowance was unchanged last month at 64,9000. Around 24,000 were aged 18 to 24.
And nearly 60,000 of the unemployed have been on the dole for over one year, according to yesterday's figures.
The claimant count rate – not the same as the unemployment rate because not all people who are not working can qualify for unemployment benefit – of 7.1% for February is also the highest since 1998.
In the last year, the claimant count has increased by 3,600 (5.9%), compared to a fall of 4.2% across the rest of the UK.
PwC chief economist Dr Esmond Birnie said Northern Ireland's private sector lacked the muscle to improve the situation.
"We see little indication that the local economy is stabilising enough to recover these losses," he said.
He said private sector employment was down 34,550 and public sector employment down 12,420 since 2008.
"Northern Ireland's private sector lacks the critical mass to fix the problem – regrettably therefore, we see no indication that, for the short-term at least, things will improve."
Like in many European economies, Northern Ireland's 18-24-year-olds are finding it toughest to get a job. The unemployment rate among young people is 23.8%, nearly double 2010's rate of 12.7% and now higher than January's EU rate of 23.7%.
But Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the overall unemployment rate was less severe than the EU, where it is 10.7%, and the Republic, where it is 14.7%.
She said the Northern Ireland economy was now at a "critical stage" and a decision should be made on whether tax powers should be devolved.
As Chancellor George Osborne prepared to make his Budget speech yesterday, trade unions in Northern Ireland said the austerity policies of the UK Government were to blame for Northern Ireland's spiralling joblessness.
Jimmy Kelly, regional secretary of trade union Unite, said: "Our young people are bearing the brunt of this crisis."
‘It feels like nobody cares about our future’
Blair Anderson (18) from Ballymena, who started an employability programme last year
“I want to be a youth worker and am working hard to get the qualifications I would need. But it’s hard to think positively when there are no opportunities out there. It’s unfair that young people are labelled scroungers when there isn’t the opportunity to work. It doesn't feel like anyone cares about our future. I hope the Government can do something to help people like me who want to do well and have a better life.”
Chris Grant (22), Banbridge, graduated with a BA in drama from Queen’s University last June
“I have applied for bar work and cafe work but haven’t been successful. It’s depressing because I want to work to support myself. It feels like doing a three-year degree is becoming a waste of time. You spend a lot of money and get this certificate, but what does it really mean for your future? I know a lot of graduates who are giving up on the careers they wanted and have worked for. People say that if you’re not well-connected, you don’t stand a chance.”
Gavin Andrews (30) from Dundonald is a university graduate
“I’ve been unemployed since January 2011 when I was made redundant from my job as a travel coordinator in Belfast. Since then I have applied for in excess of 250 jobs. I have had six interviews in the last two years and I’ve either been not qualified enough or over qualified for the position I have applied for. Someone said to me recently that I’m a shell of my former self. I am depressed. I just really need a job.”
Interviews by Amanda Poole and Sara Smyth