Mixed messages in latest Bristol jobless figures

April 19, 2012

The number of people unemployed in the South West rose during the last quarter despite the jobless rate edging down nationally from a 12-year high of 8.4% to 8.3%.

Some 179,000 people were out of work across the region between December 2011 and February 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics – a rise of 2.4% on the previous quarter and 8% on the same period last year.

In Bristol, 13,178 were claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) in March, down from 13,287 in February. That compares with a similar slight fall for the UK – down 19,100 to 1,666,859.

Over the past year the number claiming JSA has risen by 1,693, an increase of 14.7% – the highest level since mid-1997.

However, at 4.2%, Bristol still has the lowest JSA claimant count rate of England's core cities. The others are Leeds (4.6%), Sheffield and Newcastle (4.8%), Manchester (5.7%), Nottingham (6.6%), Liverpool (7.2%) and Birmingham (7.7%).

In March, there were 3,730 people aged 18-24 claiming JSA, a rate of 5.9% which was the second-lowest among the core cities and well below the UK rate of 8.1%.

JSA does not count all unemployed people, only those claiming the main out-of-work benefit.

The lowest JSA rate for Bristol in recent years was in December 2005 when it stood at 6,028.

The CBI welcomed the drop in unemployment. Deputy director-general Dr Neil Bentley said: “It’s good news that 53,000 more people are in work now than three months ago, which shows that the private sector is gradually regaining confidence to hire.

“While this is the best jobs news we’ve had in a year, the Government must step up its welfare reform programme. Worryingly, over a third of those unemployed have been out of work for more than 12 months.

“With youth jobless numbers still stubbornly high, helping young people find jobs must remain a joint priority for businesses and government.”

Responding to the figures, the Institute of Directors’ South West chairman Gerry Jones said the public sector needed to do more to reduce its pay rates which would in turn lead to fewer job losses.

“In tough times the private sector is leading the economic recovery, despite high taxes and costly regulation,” he said.

“Private sector employment is up 45,000 while public sector employment is down 37,000 in the latest quarter.

“Surprisingly, given the Spending Review, public sector pay continues to exceed that in the private sector. Public sector pay, excluding financial companies, stands at £467 a week compared with £459 a week in the private sector. If average public sector pay can be reduced then fewer jobs will need to be lost from the Spending Review.”

"The Bank of England will also be reassured about inflation prospects with total pay in both the public and private sectors rising by just over 1%. The downside of course is that inflation means real pay is falling by more than 2% which is not good news for high-street spending.”

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