Concern grows as jobless count rises

THE number of people receiving unemployment benefit rose unexpectedly last month, official figures revealed yesterday.

The claimant count rose by 12,400 compared with March to 1.47million, the Office for National Statistics said, confounding the expectations of economists for a decline of between 4,000 and 10,000.

The wider measure of total unemployment, which includes those not eligible for benefit, did fall by 36,000 in the quarter to March to 2.455million, and employment increased, showing a 118,000 rise on the quarter to 29.24million.

But economists warned that total unemployment was likely to head upwards over the coming months, despite yesterday’s fall, as the Government’s austerity measures bite.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, has forecast unemployment to increase to 2.67million by the end of this year.

He said: “We suspect that likely below-trend growth will mean that the private sector will be unable to fully compensate for the increasing job losses in the public sector that will result from the fiscal squeeze that is now really kicking in.”

At local level, the claimant count defied the national upward trend in most parts of Suffolk and north Essex, although in Ipswich the total did climb by 61 compared with March to 3,967 and the unemployment rate by 0.1 of a percentage point to 4.8%. The count also increased by 22 in the St Edmundsbury authority area to 1,560, although the rate remained unchanged at 2.4%, and in Forest Heath the count and the rate each remained unchanged at 900 and 2.3% respectively.

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Suffolk’s biggest decline was recorded in Waveney, where the count fell by 169 to 2,996 and the rate by 0.2% to 4.3%.

Smaller falls left the rate unchanged in Babergh, where the count fell by 20 to 1,119 (a rate of 2.2%), Mid Suffolk, down 14 to 1,089 (1.9%), and Suffolk Coastal, down 43 to 1,388 (1.9%).

In north and mid Essex, Tendring led the way with a fall of 158, cutting the total to 3,474 and the rate by 0.2% to 4.1%.

Rates fell by 0.1% in Braintree, down 87 to 2,581 (2.8%), Chelmsford, down 41 to 2,785 (2.5%), Maldon, down 42 to 874 (2.2%), and Uttlesford, down 41 to 776 (1.6%), while in Colchester a fall of 13 to 3,175 left the rate unchanged at 2.7%.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said yesterday: “These are welcome figures showing another rise in full-time employment in the private sector.”

But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne responded: “We welcome any glimmer of good news but today’s figures are a sign we are not out of the woods by a long stretch.

“The claimant count is up, vacancies are down and this is before the wave of public sector redundancies and school leavers come on to the books.”