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‘Province claimant count to hit 62,500’

The rise in the number of people claiming unemployment benefit in Northern Ireland slowed in February, but the province was the only UK region to record a rise.

The number of people joining the dole queues increased by just 100 to 55,700 over the month, compared to a revised rise of 900 in January, official figures from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) showed.

The news was even better for the UK as a whole, with the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance falling by 32,300 to 1.59 million.

Total UK unemployment, including those not eligible for benefits, was down by 33,000 over the quarter to January to 2.45 million, the lowest for almost a year. On the downside long-term unemployment rose by 61,000 to 687,000.

In Northern Ireland, the overall unemployment rate for the quarter of 6.3% remained below the UK rate of 7.8% and the 13.3% rate in the Republic. However, Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey noted that while the unemployment picture looks better than last month, Northern Ireland’s claimant count unemployment rate, at 6.4% of the workforce, is the second highest in the UK.

“The pick-up in business activity previously anticipated does not appear to have happened. As a result, having shortened working weeks and reduced wages, firms will have no choice but to lay off more staff. The claimant count is expected to hit around 62,500 by the end of the year,” he said.

The number of people in jobs also fell in the most recent quarter, dropping 2,890 over the three months and 20,840 over the year.

Northern Ireland has now experienced six consecutive quarters of employment decline with all sectors experiencing more significant job losses than their UK counterparts.

The figures showed a drop in the number of people classed as ‘economically inactive’, but DETI noted the local rate of 28% is much higher than the UK average of 21.5% and the highest of the 12 UK regions. Londonderry, Strabane and Limavady were the areas showing the highest claimant count by percentage of the working age population.