East Anglia: Region’s unemployment figures show mixed picture as national total hits 17-year high

UNION leaders hit out at the Government’s economic strategy yesterday as unemployment hit a 17-year high.

Total unemployment jumped by 27,000 in the three months to January to 2.53million, its highest since 1994, and the number of 16- to 24-year-olds out of work rose by 30,000 to 974,000, the worst figure since records began in 1992.

However, there was also an increase in the number of people in work, which rose by 32,000 to 29.16million, due to growth in the private sector, while the number of people in receipt of the Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by 10,200 last month to 1.45million, the biggest fall since last June.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: “There is good news and bad news in these figures.

“There’s been a welcome drop in the number of people on benefits, and the increase in full-time private sector jobs is a step in the right direction.”

But Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “The Government’s cuts-driven policies are driving the country into the ground. They are failing our young people with 16- to 24-year-olds facing a future without the hope of a decent job.”

Mr Prentis, who yesterday joined a demonstration in Whitehall to highlight the issue of youth unemployment, added: “It’s time for the Government to think again about the downward direction they are taking the country.”

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TUC general secretary Brendan Barber described the figures as “shocking”. “Over a year after the recession technically ended, unemployment is now at its highest level since the mid-1990s, with 2.53million people out of work,” he said. “These figures show that the jobs recovery is still some way off.”

However, David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “These figures were mixed, but not as bad as some had feared.”

He added: “These figures prove that the private sector is willing and able to create new jobs, and the Government must now use next week’s Budget to scrap regulatory burdens preventing businesses, particularly smaller firms, from employing new staff.”

The unemployment picture was mixed at local level in Suffolk and Essex, with the county town’s of Ipswich and Chelmsford seeing the biggest increases in benefit claims – possibly reflecting the impact of public sector spending cuts.

In Ipswich, the count grew by 122 to 3,850, representing an unemployment rate of 4.6%, up from 4.5% in January. The rate also grew by 0.1% in Babergh, to 2.3%, with the count rising by 33 in February to 1,179.

Smaller increases left the local rates unchanged in Mid Suffolk, were the count grew by 32 to 1,122 (a rate of 1.9%), St Edmundsbury, also up 32 to 1,563 (2.4%), Waveney, up 28 to 3,260 (4.6%), and Suffolk Coastal, up just one to 1,410 (1.9%). In Forest Heath, the count fell by one to 906, with the rate unchanged at 2.3%. In north and mid Essex, local rates grew by 0.1% in Chelmsford, where the count was up 157 at 2,890 (a rate of 2.6%), and in Tendring, up 32 to 3,784 (4.5%), while in Uttlesford the count edged up by seven to 827, leaving the rate unchanged at 1.7%.

Elsewhere, however, claimant counts fell last month. In Braintree, a decline of 31 to 2,688 saw the local rate fall by 0.1% to 2.9% while rates remained unchanged in Colchester, down 43 to 3,195 (2.7%), and Maldon, down one to 920 (2.3%).