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Poll: West Suffolk Jobseekers Allowance claimants down by 1,500 in a year - but is it all good news?

PUBLISHED: 06:30 17 July 2014 | UPDATED: 07:15 17 July 2014

Almost 1,500 people across west Suffolk have got back into work over the past year in a big boost to the region’s economy - but doubts persist over whether the numbers are all they seem.

New figures show the numbers of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance across Babergh, Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury fell at a rate way above the county and national average over the past year.

West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock and St Edmundsbury Borough Council leader John Griffiths hailed the news, saying it was vindication for the Government’s economic policy and the council’s action at local level.

However, local councillors expressed doubts about the quality of work on offer in the region, while the Citizens Advice Bureau said a 50% rise in disciplinary action against claimants was having a particularly bad affect on west Suffolk’s rural communities.

West Suffolk MP Mr Hancock said: “It is fantastic news that many of those finding new jobs are young people; youth unemployment has fallen by 52% in the last 12 months in west Suffolk.

“Although there’s a lot more to do, these figures show that our long-term economic plan is working.”

Lynne Rawlings, manager of Newmarket Citizens Advice Bureau, said sanctions for those on Jobseekers Allowance across the eastern region rose from 326 in 2012/13 to 487 for 2013/14.

Claimants often get sanctions for missing appointments, which can result in them being docked four weeks of benefits.

“If you think about the community we serve, if there’s only a bus into Newmarket twice a week, a taxi fare from where I live to the nearest job centre would cost £40 return,” Ms Rawlings said.

“It’s a challenge, especially when you’re living in a rural location, and people need support to get back into work. If you sanction somebody, they get back into debt.”

Mr Griffiths pointed to council initiatives such as the eastern relief road in Bury St Edmunds and the Haverhill Research Park, as well as work with West Suffolk College and St Edmundsbury’s annual business festival, as measures it had taken to create jobs and growth.

“This is great news and shows that the hard work of St Edmundsbury and our many partners is reaping rewards,” he said.

“Economic growth is one of the three cornerstones underpinning the work of St Edmundsbury and its West Suffolk partner Forest Heath.”

Mark Ereira Guyer, a Green Party borough and county councillor for Bury, said “undoubtedly there was some good news” with the figures.

However, he added: “I’d just be interested to know what sorts of jobs they’re going into - are they zero hours, are they part time? Any job is worth having, but we need to know what the quality of these jobs are.

“A lot of people in their relationship with the economy are in a very precarious situation.

“Let’s not get carried away, and let’s drill down to see what these jobs are and whether they’re the precarious ones.”

His sentiment was echoed by Newmarket town and district councillor Michael Jeffreys, who this week was selected as West Suffolk’s Labour candidate for next year’s general election.

“We’re seeing a recovery now that is two or three years later than it should be,” he said.

“It’s really good that we’re now getting back to improved levels of employment, but the one thing I would say in west Suffolk, what we have too often are low-wage jobs.”

Forest Heath District Council leader James Waters was another who welcomed the news.

“Set against the national picture, Forest Heath and West Suffolk are outperforming the rest of the UK by 20% in terms of delivering employment for our residents,” he said.

“One of our main priorities, as a council and as a West Suffolk partner with St Edmundsbury, is to help create and support jobs, so I am delighted by this news.”

Drop in numbers of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance June 2013 to June 2014:

Forest Heath -399 (49% drop)

St Eds -624 (42% drop)

Babergh -441 (40.7% drop)

Suffolk 37.4% drop

UK 29.1% drop

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