Despite drop in numbers long-term unemployment remains a problem

Posted By: August 13, 2015

Gail Bell. Irish News ( Belfast). Thursday, August 13, 2015

THE number of people claiming unemployment related benefits in Northern Ireland fell by 400 in July, continuing a trend seen over the past year, new figures reveal.

Revised findings from the latest Labour Market Report show that despite a hike in June, the number of unemployment claimants decreased by 9,400 (17.8 per cent) over the year and now sits at 43,500.

The report published yesterday by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency found the unemployment rate in the north increased by 0.3 per cent over the quarter to the end of June but fell marginally (0.1 per cent) over the year to 6.5 per cent.

However, long-term unemployment continues to be a problem with nearly 59 per cent of people out of work for more than a year – almost twice the UK average.

Youth unemployment is also higher in the north with 19.5 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds not in work – a jump of 0.2 per cent over the year and again higher than the UK average of 14 per cent.

In terms of economic inactivity (people not seeking or not available for work), the report made grim reading, with the an inactivity rate in Northern Ireland sitting at 27.4 per cent – “significantly higher” than the UK average (22.1 per cent).

Overall, the number of unemployed people was estimated at 56,000, an increase of 1,000 over the quarter but down 2,000 over the year.

Enterprise minister Jonathan Bell welcomed the fall in unemployment claimants, but noted that levels are now back to where they were a 

year ago.

“The decrease in the number of claimants of unemployment related benefits in July is welcomed, although two quarterly increases in the unemployment rate sees a return to levels reported a year ago,” he said.

“These latest figures reiterate the continued challenges faced by the Northern Ireland labour market and the impact of continued uncertainty in global markets.

“In the face of these challenges it is important that local businesses continue to seek new foreign investment and export opportunities.”

Chief economist with the Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, Richard Ramsay, painted a gloomy picture, saying that despite the decline in the number of people claiming benefits, the latest figures showed a “weakening” labour market.

“While we have become accustomed to rising employment and falling unemployment over the last few years, the local labour market now clearly appears to be on the turn, with the headline unemployment rate rising.

“This rise, which is entirely due to male unemployment, is in contrast to the stable unemployment rate seen in the UK. Indeed, the differential between the NI and UK unemployment rate is now at its widest margin since December 2003.”