Northern Ireland's jobless rate at near record low - but 'inactivity' still a blight

The north's jobless rate, at just 3.4 per cent, is below the UK average of 4 per cent and way lower than the Republic of Ireland and European Union
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NORTHERN Ireland's jobless rate stands at a mere 3.4 per cent, down by 0.4 per cent on a year ago, according to the latest Labour Force Survey (LFS).

That's below the UK average of 4 per cent and way lower than the Republic of Ireland (5.3 per cent) and European Union (6.7 per cent).

But it fails to disguise that the north still has stubbornly high levels of economic inactivity - the proportion of working-age people who are not working and not seeking or available to work, and which includes long-term sick and disabled, people looking after the family or home, and students.

Although down slightly on a year ago, the economic inactivity rate (27.9 per cent) is the highest of any UK region, and increased over the September-November quarter by nearly half a percentage point.

The problem has persisted in spite of the large sums of money poured into areas of economic deprivation in the past decade, and it is has prompted calls for government intervention to address the inactivity issue.

Federation of Small Businesses regional chair Tina McKenzie said: “When we look at the UK labour market as a whole, we see that economic inactivity is at historically low levels, showing Northern Ireland as an outlier in this regard.

“While there are many historical and social reasons for people to be economically inactive, it's crucial that we tackle this issue head on.

“From a business perspective, if future migration policy is going to restrict access to labour, then it is vital that we remove barriers to entry for those currently not engaged with the labour market.”

The number of people in jobs in Northern Ireland is estimated at 845,000, which is up 2,000 over the quarter and an increase of 8,000 over the year.

The number of confirmed redundancies (2,498) in the most recent 12 months is 40 per cent higher than in the previous 12 months. A total of 58 redundancies were proposed between mid-December and last week, a significant decrease on the previous monthly period total of 515.

There were also 16,135 job vacancies notified in the second quarter of the 2018/19 financial year - an increase of 4.2 per cent compared to the same period a year earlier.

The LFS report said the seasonally adjusted number of people on the claimant count in Northern Ireland (which includes some out-of-work claimants of Universal Credit) was 29,500 in December.

In the UK as a whole, record numbers of people are in work and job vacancies are at their joint highest level since 2001, while average earnings increased by 3.4 per cent in the year to November, the highest for a decade, outpacing inflation.

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