Belfast Telegraph

Ulster sees biggest jump in numbers claiming dole

By Clare Weir

Northern Ireland has seen the biggest rise in people claiming unemployment benefit in the UK.

The number of jobless rose by 300 in February to 59,100 - the biggest increase among the 12 regions.

The figure is up 3,500, or 6.3%, on this time last year, compared to a decrease of 8.1% in the UK.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's Labour Force Survey has also suggested an estimated drop of 1,880 jobs over the last quarter, driven by falls in the construction and service sector.

This decline was the tenth successive decrease in the seasonally-adjusted employee jobs series. However the number of jobs in the manufacturing sector has risen by 1,340 since March 2010.

And the survey suggests that the current rate of jobless people not looking for work in Northern Ireland is 28.4%, a figure also considerably higher than the UK average rate.

Richard Ramsey, chief economist with Ulster Bank, said youth unemployment remains the key challenge. It is at its highest rate since records began in 1992 and double the rate that prevailed when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

"The Executive not only has to come up with a strategy to combat record high youth unemployment, it urgently needs to 'create more jobs for the boys'," he said.

"Northern Ireland's male unemployment rate has recently moved into double-digits and stood at 10.1% during the three months to January 2011."

Northern Bank's chief economist Angela McGowan said that despite the significant number of government-backed investments and job creation announcements made in the first three months of 2011, it will take time before Northern Ireland's labour force starts to show signs of improvement.

"The local economy needs to undergo a significant structural change in terms of private sector growth before there is significant momentum behind local job creation," she said.

"That private sector growth will come from stimulating entrepreneurship, expanding indigenous firms into export markets and foreign direct investment."