Unemployment rises again as pandemic's effects result in 1.7 million without a job

The jobless rate has surged to a five-year high thanks to the coronavirus lockdowns, latest figures show.

The rate of unemployment has now hit 5.1 per cent between October and December, which is the highest level since the autumn of 2015 and up from 5 per cent in the previous quarter.

The Office for National Statistics said 1.74 million people were unemployed in the October to December period, up 454,000 from the same quarter in 2019.

And since the start of the pandemic, there are now 726,000 fewer people in payrolled employment than before, with fears that this number could jump sharply when the current furlough scheme ends and cash-strapped businesses are forced to make people redundant.

1.74 million people are now without a job as the coronavirus lockdowns hit employment

Across Lancashire, the monthly figures for January show that the number of people claiming benefits such as Universal Credit have risen in every Parliamentary constituency.

The UK now has 2,572.015 people claiming work-related benefits, that is 6.2 per cent of the population and up 3.3 per cent on January last year. The North West accounts for 310,885 people on benefits, 6.8 per cent of the population and also up 3.3 per cent on last year.

Blackpool North and Cleveleys had 4,625 people claiming, up 4.3 per cent on last January, Blackpool South had 6,440, up 5.4 per cent.

Chorley had 2,900 claimants, up 2.1 per cent, Fylde had 2,560 claimants up 2.9 per cent, Lancaster and Fleetwood had 3,050 claimants up 2.2 per cent.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who will set out his plan for jobs in next week's Budget

Preston had 5,290 people claiming work related benefits, up 3.5 per cent on last January's figure, while South Ribble had 2,170 up 1.9 per cent and Wyre and Preston North had 1,820 claimants, up 2.2 per cent.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said: “The latest monthly tax figures show tentative early signs of the labour market stabilising, with a small increase in the numbers of employees paid through payroll over the last couple of months – though there are still over 700,000 fewer people employed than before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Almost three-fifths of this fall in employees since the onset of the pandemic came from the under-25s, according to a new age breakdown we are publishing for the first time today.

“Our survey shows that the unemployment rate has had the biggest annual rise since the financial crisis.”

But he did say there were some “early signs” of a stabilising jobs market wiht the figures showing the number of payrolled workers rose by 83,000 between January and February in the second small monthly increase in a row.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone, and every job lost is a personal tragedy.

“That’s why throughout the crisis, my focus has been on doing everything we can to protect jobs and livelihoods.

“At the Budget next week I will set out the next stage of our Plan for Jobs, and the support we’ll provide through the remainder of the pandemic and our recovery.”

British Chambers of Commmerce's head of economics Suren Thiru said: “While the furlough scheme is limiting job losses, the rise in unemployment and decline in employment levels are further evidence that coronavirus continues to weaken the UK labour market.

“With firms facing a renewed cash crisis amid the current lockdown and the prospect of several more months of diminished demand and revenue before many can fully reopen, substantial job losses maybe inevitable if the support schemes wind down as planned.

“Although the government’s roadmap provides a way forward, the lack of clarity over the future path of fiscal support has left a damaging cliff edge for jobs and livelihoods.

“It is vital that the government support schemes, including furlough and business rates relief, are extended through the summer and wherever possible throughout 2021 to help protect jobs and power the recovery.”

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