Furlough extension expected to be confirmed next week as north's employment rate continues to slip

The north's unemployment rate continues to be suppressed by the furlough scheme.
Ryan McAleer

THE UK Chancellor is expected to confirm an extension to the furlough scheme until at least May in next week’s Budget.

Rishi Sunak said yesterday that the March 3 Budget announcement will lay out the support the Government will provide through the remainder of the pandemic.

The Chancellor’s comments came as the latest labour market data for Northern Ireland showed the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme continues to artificially suppress the unemployment rate here.

As it stands, the scheme will end on April 30. At the last official count on December 31, there were 94,800 employments furloughed in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) yesterday put the north’s official rate of unemployment at 3.6 per cent, up 1.2 percentage points from 12 months ago, but still well below the UK average of 5.1 per cent.

NISRA’s latest labour market report also showed the number of people claiming unemployment support has now fallen for eight consecutive months.

But at 56,700, the figure is still 27,000 more than January 2020.

Perhaps more indicative of the brewing labour market crisis was the confirmation that the north’s employment rate fell below 70 per cent for the first time in two years during January.

Economic inactivity also increased over the quarter to 28 per cent, 2.1 percentage points above the pre-covid period.

The labour market report indicates that the pandemic has had a severe impact on the self-employed. But in its analysis, NISRA said: “Although the majority of the decrease in employment since last year was due to decreases in the number of self-employed (which fell by 17 per cent), analysis from ONS at a UK level has highlighted that decreases in the number of self-employed was driven, in part, by a movement of people from self-employed to employee status.

“Decreases in employment were also driven by those aged 16-24, which fell by 24 per cent over the year.”

January’s labour market report put the collective number of redundancies proposed in the year ending January 2021 at 10,640, more than double the number recorded in the previous twelve months.

The number of confirmed redundancies reached an annual total of 5,150, the highest since 2004.

But figures only account for cases were employers made more than 20 people redundant.

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