Unemployment falls in the West Midlands despite Omicron impact

Unemployment dropped in the West Midlands last month as the region shrugged off the impact of the Omicron variant.

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

More people were in work and numbers claiming unemployment benefits fell, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

For the region the unemployment rate was 4.7 per cent with 138,000 out of work – down 4,000 on the previous three months.

The number in work in the West Midlands was up 28,000 to 2.81 million with the national figure at 32.47m.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits, including Universal Credit in the West Midlands fell by 7,020 last month to 200,965 (5.5 per cent of the working population).

It was a similar scene across the country, with the number of UK payrolled workers jumping by a record 184,000 month on month, or 0.6 per cent, in December to 29.5 million.

The figures also reveal that in the three months to November the unemployment rate fell back almost to where it was pre-Covid, to 4.1 per cent from 4.2 per cent in the previous quarter and close to the four per cent level seen in the last pre-pandemic quarter.

In the Black Country, Wolverhampton had the highest rate of 8.2 per cent, but numbers claiming fell by 460 to 13,345 from November. Walsall had a fall of 470 to 11,365 (6.5 per cent) with Sandwell down 430 to 14,145 (7.4 per cent) and Dudley down 415 to 10,625 (5.5 per cent).

Staffordshire was down by 730 to 17,035 (3.2 per cent) with Lichfield having 120 fewer claimants at 1,770 (2.8 per cent). Stafford had 75 fewer at 2,370 (3.6 per cent) and Cannock Chase also had a drop of 75 to 2,320 (3.6 per cent). South Staffordshire was down 30 to 2,155 (3.2 per cent).

The Wyre Forest district, including Kidderminster, had a fall of 110 to 2,230 (3.8 per cent).

Jobcentre Plus partnership manager Richard Rawlings, based in West Bromwich, said unemployment was going in the right direction.

"We are now recruiting for key industries affected by the pandemic including logistics, warehousing and manufacturing," he said and added that there were thousands of opportunities in health and social care in the region.

"Working in partnership with local employers in the NHS, and with care home providers for older and disabled clients, has given us the push to target their needs by tailoring our recruitment and support practices. In Black Country we are promoting a number of Sector Based Work Academy programmes which give claimants an opportunity to learn new skills, gain work experience and have a guaranteed interview," he said.

"Anyone wishing to find out more about opportunities available through the Jobcentre should speak to their Work Coach," added Mr Rawlings.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the figures were "proof that the jobs market is thriving, with employee numbers rising to record levels and redundancy notifications at their lowest levels since 2006 in December".

The ONS said the number of people employed is now 1.4 per cent, or 409,000, above levels seen before Covid.

But the figures laid bare the toll of recent soaring prices on household finances, with the ONS revealing that wages after taking account of inflation fell in November for the first time in more than a year.

Average pay after inflation, excluding bonuses, fell one per cent – the first drop since July 2020.

The latest data suggested there was little impact on Britain's jobs market from the spread of the new Covid variant in December and tightened restrictions.

This came in spite of a sharp drop off in trade for many sectors, particularly the services sector, combined with limited Government support.

Figures also confirmed the end of the furlough scheme in September has not led to the once-feared surge in job losses, with the redundancy rate falling to a record low in the three months to November.

However Matthew Percival, Confederation of British Industry director of employment, said: “Rising inflation means that squeezed incomes joins the difficulties firms are facing filling vacancies as major challenges in the UK labour market. To break this cycle and deliver sustainably rising living standards, the UK needs a plan to unleash business investment and raise ambitions for growth.”

The number of vacancies also surged to a fresh high of 1.25 million in the quarter to December - 128,000 more than the previous three months and 462,000 above the pre-Covid level as firms battled to secure workers.

But in a sign that the hiring crisis and staff shortages may finally be easing, the ONS said the rise in vacancies slowed down, falling from growth of more than 180,00 in the previous three months.

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