Ray of hope on regional unemployment

UNEMPLOYMENT in Suffolk and north Essex showed signs of stabilising last month, with some areas registering a slight fall for the first time since last autumn's financial crisis which tipped the economy into recession.

UNEMPLOYMENT in Suffolk and north Essex showed signs of stabilising last month, with some areas registering a slight fall for the first time since last autumn's financial crisis which tipped the economy into recession.

The local figures contrasted with the national picture, however, with total unemployment jumping by almost 250,000 to 2.215 million - its highest since 1996.

And the narrower count of those eligible to claim the Jobseeker's Allowance (JA) increased by 57,100 to 1,513,000, said the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS took the unusual step of bringing forward the announcement of the eagerly awaited figures - originally due to be published today - after some of the data was “accidentally” released early.

The latest figures mean that total unemployment has now increased by 592,000 over the past year while the JA claimant count has risen by 710,000 over the same period.

At local level, however, there were some grounds for cautious optimism in yesterday's figures with most parts of Suffolk seeing a fall in the claimant count compared with March while in north and mid Essex the rate of increase declined markedly.

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In Waveney, the count fell by 162 to 3,063 and the local unemployment rate by 0.3 of a percentage point to 4.6%. The local rate also fell, by 0.1% in each case, in Babergh, where the count fell by 17 to 1,513 (3.0%), Ipswich, down 56 to 3,928 (5.2%) and Mid Suffolk, down 31 to 1,303 (2.3%).

In Forest Heath a fall of 10 to 1,081 left the rate unchanged at 2.7% while the count remained unchanged in both St Edmundsbury, at 2,017 (3.3%), and Suffolk Coastal, at 1,583 (2.2%).

Claimant counts continued to rise across north and mid Essex but at a much slower rate compared with recent months. In Colchester, an increase in the count of 51, taking the total to 3,690, left the unemployment rate unchanged at 3.2%.

Elsewhere, the local rate increased by 0.1% compared with March, including Braintree, up 45 to 3,089 (3.6%), Chelmsford, up 97 to 3,017 (2.9%), Maldon, up 55 to 1,203 (3.2%), Tendring, up 28 to 3,700 (4.8%) and Uttlesford, up 35 to 951 (2.2%).

Although a welcome contrast with the steep increases in the claimant count witnessed over the past six months, the figures do not provide conclusive proof of any improvement in the outlook as, unlike the national data, the local figures are not adjusted for normal seasonal variations between March and April.

Compared with April 2008, last month's total for Suffolk of 14,488 is nearly double, up 98%, while the figure for north and mid Essex of 15,650 represents an increase of 122%.