Unemployment rises for fifth straight month across the region
The unemployment rate in the West Midlands has risen sharply and is now at its highest since February last year.
According to figures from the The Office for National Statistics (ONS), the total number of unemployed across the region now stands at 152,000 with the unemployment rate standing at 5.1 per cent for the three months to March 2023.
That compares with 136,000 from December to February and marks the fifth straight rise.
Nationally, Britain’s unemployment rate has risen again unexpectedly while vacancies have fallen to the lowest level for 18 months as economic uncertainty weighs on the UK’s jobs market, according to the official figures.
The rate of UK unemployment rose to 3.9% in the three months to March, up from 3.8% in the previous quarter and the highest level since the three months to January 2022. Most economists had expected the rate to remain unchanged at 3.8%.
The number of vacancies fell by 55,000 quarter on quarter to 1.08 million in the three months to April, marking the 10th fall in a row.
The ONS said this reflects “uncertainty across industries, as survey respondents continue to cite economic pressures as a factor in holding back on recruitment”.
But the figures also showed a rise in the employment rate to 75.9% and a fall in inactivity as more men in particular starting looking for work.
Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said: “Employment and unemployment both rose again in the first three months of 2023, driven in particular by men.
“This means the number of those neither working nor looking for work continues to fall, although the number of people not working due to long-term sickness rose again, to a new record.
“However, the number of people on employers’ payrolls fell in April for the first time in over two years, though this is an early estimate that could be revised later.
“Despite continued growth in pay, people’s average earnings are still being outstripped by rising prices.”
Figures for those claiming unemployment benefits in the West Midlands, including Universal Credit, stood at 187,025, up from 183,080.
In Shropshire, there were 4,615 people claiming unemployment benefits, including Universal Credit, compared to 4,675 previously.
For Telford & Wrekin, the number was 4,095 (35 per cent of the working population) compared to 4,025 previously.
And in Powys, the number stands at 1,810 compared to 1,760 the previous month.
In Wolverhampton, the number of claimants rose to 13,065 (7.9 per cent of the working population) from 12,795 previously. Sandwell's figures stood at 14,145 claimants, up from 13,860 while, in Dudley, the number was 9,660, up from 9,365.
Walsall's figures stood at 10,215 claimants (5.9 per cent) and in Birmingham the number was 64,155, up from 62,675 in March.
In Staffordshire, the number of claimants rose to 16,045 (3 per cent of the working population) from 15,715.
In Cannock chase, the number stands at 2,280, while in Lichfield, the claimant figure is 1,615.
For south Staffordshire, the figure is 1,880 and, in Stafford, the number is 2,135.
In the Wyre Forest, including Kidderminster, the number of claimants now stands 1,975.
Raj Kandola, director of External Affairs at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “This morning’s ONS figures revealed a mixed picture as the unemployment rate ticked upwards both regionally and nationally with the challenging economic landscape continuing to hamper businesses in their attempts to hire staff.
“It’s likely that rising interest rates are weighing heavily on demand as vacancies also fell across the majority of sectors this quarter – any minor uplift in the overall employment rate is likely to have been driven by a fall in the economic inactivity rate as more people are now looking for work compared to the end of last year.
“Here in the West Midlands, the unemployment rate remains the highest of any region in the country – a trend echoed in our own research as data from our last Quarterly Business Report highlighting the severe pressures local firms are facing in trying to add to their headcount.
“With the continued squeeze on pay packets, the Government will need to show its ability to act decisively in a bid to drive economic growth and ease labour market pressures – broadening access to the shortage occupation list would be a sensible start.”
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “It’s encouraging that the unemployment rate remains historically low but difficulty in finding staff and rising prices are a worry for many families and businesses.
“That’s why we must stick to our plan to halve inflation and help families with the cost of living, while delivering our childcare reforms and supporting older people and disabled people who want to work.”
Labour said the Office for National Statistics figures showing the rate of UK unemployment at 3.9% is evidence the Conservative Government is “a drag” on the economy.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Today we see yet more evidence that this Tory Government is a drag on Britain’s economy.
“Family finances are being squeezed to breaking point by a further fall in real wages, fewer people are in employment than before the pandemic and the number of people out of work due to long-term sickness has reached a record high.
“Labour’s ambitious reform plan will open up Jobcentres, support over 50s back into work and provide specialist job support for those with ill health.
“With our mission to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7, we will get our economy moving and create good jobs across every part of the country.”