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Margaret Canning

Hair-raising NI jobs stats only tell one side to the story

Margaret Canning


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Shoppers flocked to Belfast after more retailers were given the green light to reopen last week.

Shoppers flocked to Belfast after more retailers were given the green light to reopen last week.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Shoppers flocked to Belfast after more retailers were given the green light to reopen last week.

The labour market statistics for May make for very uncomfortable reading - all the more so because they represent just the earliest symptoms of the economic malaise caused by Covid-19 and lockdown.

Just three months of lockdown have brought us to a claimant count of 65,200, the highest number we’ve seen in 23 years.

The number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit because they’re without a job has more than doubled since March.

There’s no doubt that after the ordeal of pandemic and lockdown, it has been encouraging to see parts of the economy open up again.

But sadly the reopening of our shops and eventually our restaurants and bars will not reverse the rising claimant count.

The claimant count statistic, hair-raising though it is, only tells one side of the story of the job market at the minute.

In addition to the 65,200 jobless, there are also 212,000 of us in Northern Ireland in the ‘job limbo’ of the furlough scheme, with the government paying our wages because our employers aren’t making enough money to foot the bill.

But the furlough scheme runs out in October - and the fear is that for a large number of the companies who have made use of furlough, they might still not be making enough money by then to start paying salaries.

That is likely to mean large numbers of the 212,000 - probably tens of thousands of them - getting made redundant.

Already the number of proposed redundancies has spiralled from 342 to 1427 over the last month.

And that measure is expected to climb even higher as companies confront the 90-day notice period required by the government if they wish to make large-scale redundancies.

In an interview with this paper last month, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said she was confident that the “majority” of people on furlough would ultimately have jobs to go back to.

But with furloughed workers in such huge numbers, even if 10,000 of the 212,000 didn’t have a job to go back to, a lot of lives will be blighted.

In the space of a week, Bombardier and Thompson Aero announced 1,100 job losses earlier this month.

While it’s already difficult to get our heads around the impact of Covid-19 on our jobs market so far, we must brace ourselves for worse to come.

Belfast Telegraph