Belfast Telegraph

Economic inactivity drives drop in Northern Ireland unemployment rate

'Be clear – the Northern Ireland labour market is not in better shape than the UK'

By Claire Williamson

Northern Ireland's unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in almost 10 years - and is below the UK average for the first time since 2013.

However, the drop was more down to fewer jobs being available and more people "economically inactive" - that being they were neither in paid jobs or claiming benefits - than an increase in the amount of people in work.

The latest Labour Force Survey unemployment estimate decreased over the quarter and the year resulting in the lowest unemployment rate since 2008.

While the current employment rate of 68.1% is similar to rates in 2015, the economic inactivity rate is the highest since 2010.

Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at the Ulster University economic policy centre said that the rise in economic inactivity was the most depressing of all the statistics.

“Hence, it is realistic to pose the question is the NI economy really working?"

While Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: “Be clear – the Northern Ireland labour market is not in better shape than the UK.”

The economic inactivity rate (28.9%) increased over the quarter by 2.0 percentage points (pps) and increased by 3.0 pps over the year (from a record low in 2016).

At 28.9% of the population aged 16 to 64 years, the economic inactivity rate is the highest since 2010.

For the period July-September 2017, the latest Northern Ireland seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4%, the lowest in the quarterly series since April – June 2008.

The unemployment rate decreased by 1.2 pps from the previous quarter and 1.6 pps over the year (from 5.6%).

The latest Northern Ireland unemployment rate (4%) was below the UK average of 4.3%.

This is the first time the Northern Ireland rate has been below the UK since 2013.

Additionally, it was below the European Union (7.6%) rate and Republic of Ireland (6.3%) rate for August 2017.

There was a decrease (1.0 pps) in the employment rate (68.1%) over the quarter and (1.7 pps) over the year.

The number of people claiming unemployment related benefits has decreased for the 20th month running.

The number of claimants stood at 29,300 (3.2% of the workforce).

Universal Credit was introduced in Northern Ireland in September 2017 to new claimants of out-of-work benefits.

The number of out-of-work Universal Credit claimants is not yet available and therefore has not been included in October’s headline claimant count total.

There were 255 confirmed redundancies in October 2017.

Over the last year to October 31 2017 there has been a 41% decrease in the number of confirmed redundancies from 3,440 in the previous year to 2,045.

Regional estimates from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings were released on Monday November 13. The survey estimated that Belfast Local Government District (LGD) had the highest median weekly earnings for full-time employees at £550, nearly £50 a week higher than the Northern Ireland average (£501).

Causeway Coast and Glens was estimated to have the lowest earnings at £385, the only LGD with average earnings below £400 a week.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire welcomed the findings.

He said: "Today's Labour Market Statistics demonstrate continued stability in the Northern Ireland economy.

"The employment rate is 68.1% up from 66.1% since April 2010. The claimant count is down more than 26,000 (55,700 in April 2010 to 29,300 in Oct 2017.)

"The unemployment rate is down to 4.0 percent over the year. The lowest since the great recession in 2008 and those receiving unemployment-related benefits has decreased again.

"More than 10,000 new jobs were created in Northern Ireland over the year, meaning more people with the security a regular pay packet for themselves and their family."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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