Fewer claim jobless benefits in West Midlands

Numbers claiming unemployment benefits were mainly down across the West Midlands last month despite an increase in the latest quarterly numbers out of work in the region.

The Jobcentre in Wolverhampton city centre
The Jobcentre in Wolverhampton city centre

The unemployment figure for the region for the three months to December was 181,000 – up 3,000 on the previous three-month period – at 6.1 per cent of the working population.

The claimant count figure, which includes those claiming Universal Credit for the West Midlands, dipped by 3,535 in January to 260,100 – 7.1 per cent of the working population.

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In the Black Country, Sandwell had the biggest fall of 200 to 19,325 (9.4 per cent), with Dudley down 170 to 14,110 (7.3 per cent).

Walsall's claimant total fell by 80 to 14,705 (8.5 per cent) and Wolverhampton had 45 fewer claimants at 16,750 (10.3 per cent).

Staffordshire had a drop of 595 to 24,440 (4.6 per cent) with Lichfield seeing a fall of 115 to 2,650 (4.3 per cent), Stafford down 85 to 3,305 (four per cent), South Staffordshire dropping 60 to 2,920 (4.3 per cent) and Cannock Chase recording 30 fewer at 3,355 (5.3 per cent).

In Worcestershire the Wyre Forest district, including Kidderminster, had a fall of 80 to 3,435 (5.9 per cent).

The region has 2.78 million in employment – 59.1 per cent of the working population.

Toll

Nationally the unemployment rate was 5.1 per cent with 1.74m out of work for the three months to December. The claimant count was 2.57m last month.

The number of workers on UK payrolls has fallen by nearly 730,000 since the start of the pandemic and the jobless rate has surged to a five-year high, but official figures revealed "early signs" of a stabilising jobs market.

The Office for National Statistics said the number of payrolled workers rose by 83,000 between January and February in the second small monthly increase in a row.

But the data showed the toll taken by the coronavirus crisis on the jobs market, with 726,000 fewer workers on payrolls since February 2020.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said: "Our survey shows that the unemployment rate has had the biggest annual rise since the financial crisis."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone, and every job lost is a personal tragedy.

"That's why throughout the crisis, my focus has been on doing everything we can to protect jobs and livelihoods.

"At the Budget next week I will set out the next stage of our Plan for Jobs, and the support we'll provide through the remainder of the pandemic and our recovery."

Minister for Employment Mims Davies said: “Today’s figures highlight the challenges people are still facing, but there are glimmers of hope with employment relatively stable, over 600,000 people moving onto payrolls and hours worked up.

“With the Prime Minister setting out the road map to cautiously ease lockdown and the vaccine rollout protecting millions of people, we’re looking ahead to our recovery – our Plan for Jobs is creating new opportunities, boosting skills, and delivering a package of support for people of all ages, getting Brits back into work as we push to build back better.”

The British Chambers of Commerce head of economics Suren Thiru said:  “While the furlough scheme is limiting job losses, the rise in unemployment and decline in employment levels are further evidence that coronavirus continues to weaken the UK labour market.

“With firms facing a renewed cash crisis amid the current lockdown and the prospect of several more months of diminished demand and revenue before many can fully reopen, substantial job losses maybe inevitable if the support schemes wind down as planned.

“Although the Government’s road map provides a way forward, the lack of clarity over the future path of fiscal support has left a damaging cliff edge for jobs and livelihoods.

“It is vital that the government support schemes, including furlough and business rates relief, are extended through the summer and wherever possible throughout 2021 to help protect jobs and power the recovery.”

Matthew Percival, Confederation of British Industry director of people and skills, said: “The Job Retention Scheme continues to support people in work and limit the impact of coronavirus on the labour market. Employers will now be looking to the Chancellor to extend furlough, securing people’s jobs and livelihoods.

“The Prime Minister’s road map offers optimism that the country can get back to business in the coming months. But with tough decisions on jobs being taken daily, employers need the Budget to provide further business support until the economy is fully reopen.

“VAT deferrals and a business rates holiday to June would also provide immediate relief to those sectors who are struggling and preparing for restrictions to ease over time.”

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