Lockdown offers hope of easing of unemployment as more claim benefits in Lancashire
The number of workers on UK payrolls fell for the first time in four months in March, but job vacancies surged as businesses prepared to reopen after lockdown, official figures have shown.
The Office for National Statistics said the number of payrolled workers dropped by 56,000 between February and March as the pandemic continued to take its toll on the jobs market.
Overall there were 813,000 fewer workers on payrolls than in March 2020.
But there were further signs that the jobs sector is stabilising, with the first quarterly fall in the unemployment rate since 2019 between December and February and statistics signalling a near-16 per cent jump in vacancies in March.
The unemployment rate eased back further to 4.9 per cent from 5 per cent in the previous three months, the ONS said.
However, the claimant count – another measure that includes people working with low incomes and low hours, as well as people who are not working – rose 0.4 per cent month-on-month to 2.7 million in March.
Locally the claimant count for the month of March showed increases right across Lancashire, with the highest number dependant on benefits such as Universal Credit for their income or to top up low wages was in the Blackpool South constituency.
There, 6,665 people were having to claim benefits, some 13.6 per cent of the population, the highest anywhere in the North West, and a figure up 7.8 per cent on the same month last year when lockdown began.
Blackpool North had 4,695 claimants, 9.6 per cent of the population there and up 5.5 per cent on last March.
Preston had 5,560 people claiming benefits, 8.5 per cent of the population, a figure up 4.5 per cent on last year.
Chorley had 3,040 claimants, 4.7 per cent of the population and up 2.6 per cent on last year, Fylde had 2,595 claimants, 4.7 per cent and up 2.6 per cent.
Lancaster and Fleetwood had 3,155 claimants, 5.2 per cent of the population and up 2.9 per cent., while Ribble Valley had 2,200 claiming, 3.6 per cent of the population and up 2.4 per cent on last year.
South Ribble had 2,260 claiming, 3.8 per cent, up 2.1 percent on last March, while Wyre and Preston North had 1,850 claimants, 3.5 per cent and up 2.5 per cent on the same month last year.
Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said: “The latest figures suggest that the jobs market has been broadly stable in recent months after the major shock of last spring.
“The number of people on payroll fell slightly in March after a few months of growth.
“There are, though, over 800,000 fewer employees than before the pandemic struck, and with around five million people employed but still on furlough, the labour market remains subdued.
“However, with the prospect of businesses reopening, there was a marked rise in job vacancies in March, especially in sectors such as hospitality.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has extended the furlough scheme to support workers through to the end of September and experts predict unemployment will ramp up once it ends.
But it is hoped that the economy will bounce back from a record 10 per cent plunge in 2020 as restrictions ease and the vaccination programme continues to roll out, helping soften the blow on the jobs market.
In response to the latest jobs data, Mr Sunak said: “Protecting jobs and the economy has been my main focus since this pandemic began – through the furlough scheme alone we have protected 11.2 million jobs.
“As we progress on our road map to recovery I will continue to put people at the heart of the Government’s response through our Plan for Jobs – supporting and creating jobs across the country.”
Overall unemployment stood at 1.68 million between December and February, down 50,000 on the previous three months, according to the ONS.
Employment was down 73,000 on the quarter at 32.4 million.
But the British Chambers of Commerce worse could be coming later this year. BCC Head of Economics, Suren Thiru, said: “The latest data confirms that the UK labour market remains subdued. While there was a marginal fall in the unemployment rate, the squeeze on activity from ongoing restrictions helped drive a decline in payroll employment in March.
“Unemployment remains on course to peak towards the end of 2021, once the furlough scheme expires and those who stopped job hunting during the pandemic look to return to the workforce as restrictions ease.