As official figures reveal UK unemployment remains at a 45-year low, Jobcentre Plus staff in Merseyside are helping unemployed people get back into the jobs market. Tony McDonough reports
There has been an almost 10% rise in the number of unemployment-related benefits claimants in the Liverpool city region over the past 12 months – but a 32.7% fall in the past five years.
A gradual roll-out of Universal Credit over recent years has made like-for-like comparisons difficult but the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has introduced what it calls the ‘alternative claimant count’.
This measures the number of people claiming unemployment related benefits by modelling what the count would have been if Universal Credit had been in place previously.
Using this measure there were 37,403 people claiming unemployment-related benefits in Liverpool, Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Halton in February 2018. In February this year that had risen almost 10% to 41,028.
However, the longer term trend is more positive. It shows that in February 2014 there were 60,932 claimants meaning the figure had plummeted 32.7% by February this year.
ONS figures published on Tuesday show that the UK unemployment rate for the three months to March remained at 3.8% – the lowest rate since 1974 – and that wages have outstripped inflation for the 14th month in a row, although wage growth did slow in the three months to March.
There are now just under 32.7m people in work in the UK – a rise of more than 3.6m since 2010. The internationally recognised measure, which has remained the same since 1991, has been criticised as it defines someone who works one hour a week as being employed.
Consequently the debate over zero hours contracts has intensified. But the Government points out that such contracts cover only around 2.5% of the total labour market and that some workers prefer that level of flexibility.
Unemployment fell by 65,000 to 1.3m in the three months to March. In the North West the employment rate is 74.8% and unemployment rate stands at a record low of 3.8%.
According to Jobcentre Plus the leading sectors for job creation in the Liverpool city region are retail, care construction and logistics.
Local Jobcentre Plus spokesperson, Gemma Batchelor, told LBN staff were running a number of support and training programmes to help unemployed people apply for existing vacancies across a number of sectors.
“There are sectors where we always see vacancies, in particular the care sector and hospitality, and our challenge is to persuade people to consider those jobs,” she said.
Jobcentres across Merseyside are assisting HMRC with the recruitment of 150 full and part-time staff at offices in Liverpool and Bootle and are also helping people to apply for vacancies at Merseyrail stations and at a new Wetherspoons bar in James Street in Liverpool city centre. They have also assisted people to fill 52 retail roles in St Helens.
A signifiant focus of their efforts has been in the construction sector where there has been a steady demand for skilled workers. Ms Batchelor added: “We are working with employers to address skills shortages in construction.
“We have delivered nine different support and training packages to help people get the certificates they need to be able to take on particular roles. One of the packages was entry-level aimed at people looking to work in construction for the first time.
“So far, 69 people have gone through the programmes and 56 of those are now starting works. We are hopeful the remainder will also be in employment soon.”
She added there was soon expected to be rising demand for logistics jobs at the proposed new Amazon facility at Haydock Green near St Helens.