Northern Ireland

Rising unemployment in NI against the national trend

job centre office generic
Image caption The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in NI has increased again

Over the past year the dole queues in Northern Ireland have stubbornly refused to follow the national trend.

Queues are getting longer - at a time when they are shrinking elsewhere.

Latest figures for April show the number of people signing on the dole in Northern Ireland has risen again.

However, under a different definition of unemployment used by the government - which is a survey rather than an actual count - the rate here has fallen slightly over the the past quarter.

This method draws on a small sample in Northern Ireland and its findings are more volatile.

If it shows a fall, it tends to be the definition favoured by optimists, and currently pegs the unemployment rate at 7.2% which is below the overall UK rate of 7.7%.

But a look behind this survey figure at the other measure of unemployment tells a different story.

Rising unemployment

It reflects a trend of rising joblessness in Northern Ireland while rates are falling in the UK as a whole.

For April, the monthly figures showing the actual numbers claiming unemployment-related benefits rose again.

Another 200 people began signing on in April, pushing the jobless total to 59,200, which is a 13 year high.

And it is predicted the total will rise even further.

Richard Ramsey, chief economist at the Ulster Bank said: " Whilst NI's unemployment levels continue to rise, albeit only marginally, the labour market has remained more resilient than had been expected.

"Nevertheless, we still expect NI's claimant count to rise above 70,000 within the next 18 months.

"The construction sector and those industries sensitive to consumer spending will be the primary sources of job losses in the months ahead."

Half of those on the dole have been unemployed for longer than a year.

Worryingly, the number of young people signing on continues to rise.

And almost one in five 18 to 24-year-olds eligible for work cannot find a job.

Divergent trend

Looking at the longer term, Northern Ireland has a divergent trend from the rest of the UK.

Over the past 12 months, the number claiming unemployment-related benefits here has increased by 3,600, or 6.5%, while over the same period the rate across the UK fell.

In fact, the annual increase in Northern Ireland was the largest among the UK regions.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster focused on this month's survey figures, which show a quarterly fall in unemployment to suggest "we are making progress in the face of the downturn".

"The latest labour market indicators report a fall in the unemployment rate to 7.2%, down from 8.0% in the previous quarter.

"It is also encouraging to note that unemployment in Northern Ireland is below the UK rate of 7.7%."

However, the minister acknowledged the seemingly inexorable climb of the claimant count which measures the numbers on the dole.

Ms Foster said: "Despite these signs of progress, I am conscious that we are nevertheless continuing to see an increase in the number of people claiming unemployment benefit.

"We cannot therefore take any gains for granted.

"There remains considerable work to be done to reverse the worse effects of the downturn and put Northern Ireland back on a sustainable road to recovery."