Belfast Telegraph

Experts demand government help on long-term joblessness

By Margaret Canning

The Northern Ireland economy must not be allowed to drift, an economist said as figures showed a slight increase in the province's unemployment rate.

The Labour Market Report revealed that the unemployment rate rose by 0.1% over the three months to July to 6.2%, in contrast to the UK rate of 5.5%.

Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan joined the Federation of Small Businesses in the province in calling for policy intervention to address the deep-seated problems of the Northern Ireland jobs market.

But a separate claimant count rate for August showed a fall in the numbers claiming Jobseekers Allowance, to 42,000. That was down 1,000 during the month and by 10,400 over the year.

But on a less positive note, Northern Ireland remained lumbered with the highest rate of economic inactivity in the UK, at 27.5%, compared to a UK average of 22.1%.

And the rate of long-term unemployment - those who have been on the dole for 12 months or more - was up 6.1 percentage points on the previous year.

Ms McGowan said the data suggested the market was "at best, static".

"The number of claimants dropped over the month of August by around 1,000, but simultaneously the employment level fell back during the latest quarter," she added.

"Inactivity is unfortunately on the rise in Northern Ireland, with 27.5% of people of working age not employed (compared to only 22.1% in the UK).

"The rate of long-term unemployment at 58% in Northern Ireland is double that in the UK, and youth unemployment levels at 27.5% imply that much more needs to be done.

"In summary, the labour market picture suggests that policy intervention and strong political leadership are badly needed. Allowing our economy to drift is not an option."

Ms McGowan also called for action from politicians.

"Our political leaders need to work on securing inward investment and delivering support for enterprise," she said.

"Northern Ireland cannot afford to deter potential inward investors with political uncertainty."

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the claimant count of 42,000 was the lowest since January 2009, and well down from its February 2013 peak of 64,700.

The number of male claimants was at its lowest since December 2008, at 29,065, while the 13,698 female claimants was at its lowest since March 2010.

Wilfred Mitchell, policy chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland, said that the jobs data tallied with the federation's belief that confidence among small businesses had cooled.

"Business confidence depends on a stable political and economic landscape and therefore it is unsurprising that small businesses are being cautious in terms of growth plans and hiring staff," Mr Mitchell said.

He also called for "active labour market policies" including more funding for education and skills.

Belfast Telegraph