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Biggest increase in economic inactivity since records began


Concerned: Dr Esmond Birnie

Concerned: Dr Esmond Birnie

Concerned: Dr Esmond Birnie

Northern Ireland’s economic inactivity rate, which covers people who are neither in work nor looking for employment, has seen its biggest increase since records began 22 years ago, according to new figures.

The Labour Market Survey from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) showed that the number of economically inactive people — not in work because they are retired, sick, students or unable to work for some other reason — had increased by 1.6 percentage points to 27.7% in the period from January to March.

That put an estimate for the number of economically inactive people at 589,000, meaning an increase of around 24,000.

The average UK rate was 21.5%, which was down slightly on the quarter before.

Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre, said the increase was “worrying and puzzling”.

“The Nisra figures are strongly suggestive that when it comes to the jobs market, the recovery in Northern Ireland is slowing right down and we are also lagging behind Great Britain — the UK figure is still declining slightly, whereas Northern Ireland is on the up,” he added, noting the gap between the two had widened from around 5% to 6.2%.

Mr Birnie also said it was possible that some people who would be classified as unemployed in Great Britain were instead deemed eligible for long-term sickness benefit here.

The employment rate fell to 68.4% from 69.9% over the reporting period, though the previous rate had been the highest on record.

The overall unemployment rate of 5.3% was unchanged on the quarter before.

The separate claimant count — the number of people claiming unemployment benefits — stood at 31,500 in April, which was down by 200 on the previous month.


Concerned: Dr Esmond Birnie