Belfast Telegraph

Unemployment at highest in 15 years

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Unemployment rates have more than doubled since Northern Ireland revelled in the property boom, new figures out today show.

The number of people out of work has hit 8.5% for the first time in 15 years, with 64,900 people claiming unemployment-related benefits.

More than half (58.6%) have been jobless for over a year while the rates for young people aged between 18 and 24-years-old have peaked at 23.8% - the highest since 1995.

Dr Esmond Birnie, chief economist with PricewaterhouseCoopers warned the situation was unlikely to improve.

"This is not good news, but it's not unexpected either. Today's figures illustrate the extent of the job loss since the downturn began in mid 2008, with private sector employment down 34,550 and public sector fallen by 12,420.

"Northern Ireland's private sector lacks the critical mass to fix the problem; regrettably therefore, we see no indication that, for the short term at least, things will improve."

During the boom when the average house price topped £215,000 and 69,000 new cars were sold in 2007, the level of unemployment stood at just 4.1% with 25,700 people claiming benefits.

House prices have now slumped to an average of £163,845 and new car sales have dramatically declined to less than 50,000.

The rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland is above the UK average of 7.8% and it has the second highest number of benefit claimants from 12 other regions.

In the Republic of Ireland unemployment is running at 14.7% while in the EU an estimated 10.7% of people are out of work.

This latest increase has been blamed on a a fall in construction and manufacturing jobs which outweighed the growth in service sector work.

Nigel Smyth, CBI (Confederation of British Industry's) Northern Ireland Director, said the figures were disappointing.

"This clearly reflects the ongoing economic challenges that we face. But what is perhaps more concerning is that Northern Ireland is now nudging ahead of the UK average rate and reaching its highest level of unemployment in 15 years. The Executive needs to re-double its efforts to combat the rise and look again at short to medium term options for jobs growth," Mr Smyth said.

The seasonally adjusted estimates were measured by the Labour Force Survey for the last quarter from November 2012 to January 2013.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the devolution of Corporation Tax could help the economy.

"These latest statistics provide further evidence that the Northern Ireland economy continues to be impacted by the global downturn. There have been extensive negotiations between the Executive and the Treasury over the devolution of corporation tax powers which culminated in a report to the Prime Minister towards the end of 2012. We are now at a critical stage and the time has come for decisions to be taken.

"I believe that lower corporation tax would lead to new jobs through attracting new inward investment and encouraging locally owned companies to expand," Ms Foster said.

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