Sunderland jobless claimant count rises as Universal Credit roll-out continues

The latest jobs figures have been released
The latest jobs figures have been released

The number of people claiming of out-of-work benefits in Sunderland jumped again last month as the roll-out of Universal Credit continued.

The new benefit requires a broader span of claimants to look for work than Jobseeker's Allowance did.

There were 8,295 people classed as receiving out-of-work benefits in the city last month, a rise of 110 on March and up by 2,375 year-on-year.

JobCentre Plus' Steve McCall said: "Today’s Labour Market Statistics show that after a couple of months of small rises, the unemployment figure for the North East remains unchanged this month at 5.4%. The employment rate has dropped in the region by 0.8% this quarter, which covers the period January to March.

"Figures released by the Office for National Statistics also show for the last full calendar year, the North East had the largest increase in average weekly hours worked. Anecdotally we seem to see slightly fewer vacancies being advertised in the retail sector (although there are still vacancies out there, including in the Bridges) compared to last year and some employers have told us they are offering existing staff more hours rather than committing yet to further external recruitment.

"This does, of course, open up other opportunities to people with customer service skills; with hospitality, contact centre, care, tourism, warehousing, bus driving, delivery drivers and HMRC all recruiting heavily at the moment.

"The HMRC recruitment is for up to 150 new recruits, split between their Washington and Longbenton offices. We have held awareness sessions in local jobcentres to provide local unemployed customers the chance to find out more about the roles, explain the recruitment process, provide support in compiling personal statements and offer practice tests for the numerical and verbal reasoning online tests that are part of this application process.

"Specifically in Sunderland, we have negotiated routeways to support people into employment with Vantec, taxi driving, tourism and call centres, Unipres/Zenith (automotive components manufacturing) and Barclays (apprenticeships).

"So a variety of local employers and those within easy travel are still recruiting in the region and we are working with these employers – and our customers – to secure routeways that will allow our jobseekers to enhance their skills and on the job experience before securing a guaranteed interview wherever possible.

The unemployment rate in the North East remained stable at 5.4% in the three months to March 2019, but the region’s figure also remains the highest in the UK. The UK average sits at an all-time low of 3.7%.

The North East’s employment rate fell 0.8% to 71.1%, the lowest in the UK. The region’s economic inactivity rate rose 0.7% to 24.7%, leaving Northern Ireland the only region with a higher figure.

Arlen Pettitt, Chamber Knowledge Development Manager, said: “North East England’s unemployment rate has been ticking up since last summer, reflecting our Quarterly Economic Survey results over the past few months which have seen a concern over staffing and recruitment trending upwards.

"The Government needs to look beyond the headline national figures and address the fact that the country’s economy continues to be built on regional imbalances. Here we may have seen more positive statistics a year ago as businesses planned for Brexit, but now the uncertainty is starting to bite.

"With confidence in the future lacking, businesses will be working even harder to make sure every time they recruit it’s the right person with the right skills.”

North East Local Enterprise Partnership Senior Economist Victoria Sutherland added: "We are disappointed to see that today’s labour market statistics show that employment has fallen across the North East region, including Tees Valley.

"Employment has declined by 5,000 over the last quarter and 26,000 over the year.

"In addition, whilst unemployment has remained stable over the last quarter, it has increased by 7,000 over the last year.

"There has also been a rise in those that are outside the labour market, for example, because they are studying, looking after children or due to ill health.

"These trends are particularly disappointing given that the region had made significant progress in last few years.

"The number of men in employment has increased slightly over both the quarter and year, meaning the decline in employment reflects a fall in the number of women in work. In total, 23,000 women have left the labour market in the North East the last 12 months. Going forward, it will be important to understand what is driving these trends.

"The North East LEP will continue to work with partners across the region to deliver the Strategic Economic Plan and its goal to deliver 100,000 more jobs by 2024 and to ensure the provision is in place to help residents progress towards, and into, available employment opportunities."