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200 more people sign on dole, bucking UK trend

The unemployment rate in Northern Ireland has fallen — but 200 people have joined the dole queue in the last month.

The Northern Ireland seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was estimated at 7.2% for the period from January to March 2011, representing a fall from the rate of 8% in the previous quarter, but an increase from the rate of 6.9% recorded in the previous year.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures also revealed that 200 more people joined the unemployment register in April, bringing the total number on the dole to 59,200, bucking the UK trend.

Northern Ireland continues to have the highest rate of economic inactivity of all the UK regions.

Half of those claiming unemployment benefit have been out of work for more than a year and the number of young people claiming is still rising, with almost one in five eligible 18 to 24-year-olds out of a job.

Angela McGowan, Northern Bank chief economist, said that the latest data disguises a huge variance in the labour market.

“The bottom line for Northern Ireland’s labour market presents a relatively healthy figure which shows the local unemployment level to be below the national average and well below many European comparators,” she said.

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“But long-term unemployment and youth unemployment are the achilles heel of our labour market and resources will have to be skewed in their direction.

“The previous administration has worked hard to attract new investments and new jobs to the region during tough times and going forward a drop in corporation tax has the potential to create thousands more jobs.

“But investment and economic growth require a highly skilled and well-educated workforce and this needs to be the focus of current policy.

“We have to provide young people and the long-term unemployed with the opportunity to fully participate in the labour market by putting resources into training, re-skilling as well as providing affordable education.”

Richard Ramsey, Ulster Bank’s chief economist said that the outlook is not promising.

He said: “The construction sector and those industries sensitive to consumer spending will be the primary sources of job losses in the months ahead. The next quarter’s figures are as likely to begin with an ‘8’ as a ‘7’.”

Enterprise minister Arlene Foster said any fall in unemployment has to be welcomed and the number of redundancies in the past year is also just half of the preceding year’s. But she added: “We cannot take any gains for granted.”