Belfast Telegraph

Concerns remain despite jobless fall

By David Elliot

The number of people out of work in Northern Ireland fell once again in the first few months of the year but lengthening dole queues are still giving cause for concern.

The unemployment rate stood at 6.7% in the first quarter, a fall from 7.2% from the same time last year.

The data, which comes from the Labour Force Survey carried out by the Office of National Statistics, was welcomed by Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster.

She said Northern Ireland's unemployment rate compares well to the UK average of 8.2% or that in the Republic where 14.7% of the population are out of work.

But even the minister was quick to lament the rising number of people claiming unemployment benefit.

The claimant count climbed by 700 people in April to 62,500, giving Northern Ireland the second highest rate of all UK regions. Over the last 12 months it has risen by 3,300 people.

"This demonstrates the continuing pressures within the UK, the eurozone and the wider global economy, pressures we cannot expect to remain immune from," Arlene Foster said.

Business leaders didn't miss the worrying sign from the dole offices.

Roger Pollen, FSB Head of External Affairs, said. "The continued rise in the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits clearly illustrates a pressing need to create real long-term employment opportunities here rather than part-time or short term initiatives."

Angela McGowan, chief economist at Northern Bank, added: "While the local executive and private sector continue to pursue economic growth to ensure that our labour market does not deteriorate, the economic backdrop in which they work continues to present new challenges."