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Northern Ireland employment hits a 20-year high, but experts warning of likely Brexit effect

By Margaret Canning

The employment rate is at a 20-year high in Northern Ireland despite fears over the impact of Brexit on the economy, latest figures show.

Unemployment also reached an eight-year low at 5.6% over July to September, the labour force survey said - down 0.3 percentage points over the year.

And the separate claimant count showed the number of people claiming unemployment benefit fell by 700 during October to reach 34,000 - which was also down by nearly 6,000 over the year.

October was the seventh month in a row in which the claimant count decreased.

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said the fall was "positive news for our economy".

He said an employment rate of 69.9% from July to September was also the highest recorded since the labour market survey was introduced in 1995, and up 0.9% on the quarter before.

And economic inactivity - a measure that covers those who are neither working nor looking for work - had also fallen to 25.8%.

That was down by nearly 2% on the year before - but was still the highest rate of all the UK regions.

However, economist Esmond Birnie of the Ulster University economic policy centre said the province's productivity was still low despite the growth in the employment rate.

"Recent jobs growth performance has been reasonable... with the qualification that the growth may be weighted towards part-timers rather than full-timers," he said.

And he said that Brexit was likely to bring further change to the job market with businesses looking to find replacements for the "relatively low cost labour supply" from central and eastern Europe in the event of a 'hard' Brexit switching off the supply of labour from such sources.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, which compiles the labour market report, described the fall in the unemployment and employment rates as "statistically significant" when compared with figures for three years ago.

The employment rate of 69.9% means that 842,000 people are now in work, whether part-time or full-time. And 52% (440,000) were male, while 402,000 were female.

Dr David Armstrong, a partner at PwC in Northern Ireland, said that "while the unemployment rate shows no sign yet of the Brexit vote leading to job losses, both the youth unemployment levels and long-term unemployment remain much higher than we would have hoped".

Long-term unemployment - those who have been signing on for more than a year - was 43.4%, compared to a UK average of 25.7%. Youth unemployment was 15% compared to a UK average of 12.4%.

Belfast Telegraph