Suffolk: Unemployment falls by a third in a year down to pre-recession low as MPs and business chiefs issue upbeat outlook
PUBLISHED: 14:35 15 May 2014 | UPDATED: 14:35 15 May 2014
Politicians and business chiefs in Suffolk last night issued a bullish assessment of the county’s economic prospects after unemployment fell by almost a third in a year.
The number of people claiming out-of-work benefits in the county plummeted to pre-recession levels in April when falling to 8,592, the lowest since October 2008 (8,486) and a 32.3% decrease from 12,607 in April 2013.
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer claimed the government was reversing the “legacy of wasting young people’s lives” after launching a series of work programmes aimed at young people and overhauling the welfare system.
But critics raised concerns over the profile of the jobs driving the employment growth numbers, saying many new positions are either low-paid, part-time or based on “insecure” zero-hours contracts.
It came after yesterday’s Office for National Statistics research found the proportion of people in Suffolk claiming benefits dipped below 2% for the first time since October 2008. It was 1.9% last month, compared to a post-recession peak of 3.2%.
In Suffolk, a further analysis of the data found 350,200 people were employed last year, a 15,400 increase from 2010, while gross weekly pay for full-time workers rose by 7.9% between 2008 and 2012, from £450 to £485.50.
Meanwhile, an extra 5,500 people have become self-employed since the recession, climbing to 52,800 in 2013.
In November, the number of jobseekers stood at 9,390, the lowest since August 2008 (7,800). It was 14,600 in February 2012.
Mr Gummer said the government had proved its critics wrong, with unemployment in Ipswich dipping below 3,000 for the first time since the recession. It was 2,856 in April, compared to a peak of 4,431 in January 2012.
“We have now got a better youth and general employment picture than before the crisis,” he said.
“Youth unemployment is down by a third which means we are reversing the legacy of wasting young people’s lives that we inherited.
“There is a lot more to do but the plan is working and we cannot deviate from it.”
David Ellesmere, Ipswich’s Labour candidate for the 2015 General Election, welcomed the figures, but warned: “Long term youth unemployment in Ipswich is still double what it was in 2010.
“Many new jobs are low-paid, part-time or insecure zero-hours contracts. The number of working people needing housing benefit has increased by 60% since the General Election. This is why the cost of living crisis is still a very real issue for most people in Ipswich.”
In St Edmundsbury, some 1,050 people were unemployed in April, down from 1,620 in a year. It fell from 1,213 to 746 in Babergh and from 1,082 to 682 in Mid Suffolk.
It fell from 1,201 to 728 in Suffolk Coastal, 2,862 to 2,008 in Waveney, and 922 to 522 in Forest Heath.
West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock praised schools, employers and job centre sites for “building the confidence” to create sustained employment.
“It is fantastic news that many of those finding new jobs are young people; youth unemployment has fallen by 40% in the last 12 months in West Suffolk,” he said.
John Dugmore, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are taking on new staff amid improvements in the manufacturing and service sectors.
“It is fundamental that if we are to see continued growth that the government delivers on important investment commitments, such as the A14 upgrade,” he added.
Luke Morris, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Institute of Directors, said the figures showed the region was “back on track”.
He said: “Most commentators felt that a recovery was always going to be dependent upon rebuilding consumer confidence, which this data is further evidence of.
“Improved employment and steady increases in wages point to a continuation of the responsible approach employers and employees have adopted through the credit crisis, with productivity improvements and flexible working practices and pay preserving many jobs.
“As a region, our employers have always been sensible and prudent and I am sure that regional businesses will retain their cautious optimism in to the coming months.”
Chris Starkie, managing director of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said the region was moving in the “right direction”.
He said: “It reflects what businesses are telling us: they are looking to invest and grow.
“New Anglia LEP is running a series of business roadshows in Suffolk and we have already seen 40% of firms applying for funding to help expand and employ more staff.
“We have also seen an increase in applications for our Growing Business Fund which offers grants of up to £500,000.
“Jobs growth is a key element of our strategic economic plan and our goal is to help create more high-value roles by improving the skills programmes.”