The Office for National Statistics has today released the latest official statistics on claimant counts at the local level. After weeks of growing concerns about the possible effects of Coronavirus on different local labour markets, this data allows us to have an initial picture of the impact the first few weeks of the lockdown – up to April 9th – have had on employment opportunities across the country.
Firstly, the data confirms there has been a very large increase in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits everywhere in the country. In April, 2.1 million people in the UK filed a claim for either Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance, a rise of approximately 850,000 compared to March 2020. No city or large town across the UK was left unaffected.
Secondly, what the data also shows is that cities and large towns in the North and Midlands have been hardest hit (see map below). When looking at the monthly change, cities in the North and Midlands have recorded the biggest percentage point increases in claimant counts compared to March 2020. Between March and April this year, the claimant count went up by 2.02 percentage points nationally, but by 3.44 percentage points in Blackpool, 2.86 in Liverpool and 2.84 in Hull.
No city in the South of England was among the top 10 cities with the largest increases. In fact claimant counts in Cambridge increased by less than one percentage point, and in Oxford by just 1.10 percentage points.
As a result of that, interestingly, some 18 cities – none of which are in the South of England – now have a claimant count rate higher than that of Hull in March 2020 – i.e. 5.9 per cent, the highest rate among cities back in March 2020.
This is reinforcing existing patterns in unemployment claimants – with rates higher in cities and large towns with weaker economies in the North and Midlands. As of April 2020, Blackpool, Hull and Birmingham are the three cities with the highest levels of claimant counts – 8.9, 8.7 and 8 per cent respectively, much higher than the national average of 5.1 per cent.
While the top 10 cities for claimant counts are all in the North and Midlands, the 10 cities with the lowest claimant counts are in the South of England and Scotland, with York being the only northern exception. At a claimant count below three per cent, Cambridge and Aldershot are the two places faring best on this measure.
A number of factors are driving these results – industry composition, use of the Job Retention Scheme, eligibility for benefits among others – but one thing is certain: unemployment is rising fast, especially in places that already had weaker economies.
Reducing this number will be the biggest challenge for the Government for months ahead. We will continue to provide data and intelligence as it becomes available, so watch this space as we develop policy recommendations fit for supporting the recovery in different labour markets.
Claimant count for UK cities and large towns