Unemployment in northern England 'highest in quarter of a century'

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
Unemployment is at its highest since 1994 in the North, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
Unemployment is at its highest since 1994 in the North, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

The number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits in northern England has hit its highest level in more than a quarter of a century, new analysis suggests.

A new report highlights “severe and growing” regional divides in the UK, blaming COVID-19, a decade of public spending cuts and the centralisation of power in Whitehall.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North’s latest analysis highlights a string of statistics showing how northern England’s economy lags behind the rest of the UK.

It found the claimant count for unemployment-related benefits in local authorities across northern England stood at 657,900 in October. It accounts for around 7.2% of the working-age population, the highest rate since the recession of the early 1990s when unemployment spiked.

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The figures are only one proxy for unemployment, however. The claimant count, compiled by the Office for National Statistics, covers those receiving universal credit who are searching for work. It is likely to include some workers on low wages who are obliged to look for better-paid work in order to receive support.

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The latest analysis also shows around 5 million workers in the North earn less than the ‘real living wage.’ This is the amount experts believe workers need to live on, which is higher than the UK government’s legal living wage for over-25s – a rebrand of the minimum wage.

Child poverty and both gender and ethnicity pay gaps are higher in the North than the England average, according to the IPPR. Around one in three children is living in poverty, around five percentage points higher than the rate for the rest of England outside London.

Meanwhile healthy life expectancy is below the English average in most areas. For women it declined in around 60% of areas over the past decade, and for men in around a third of areas.

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Figures on qualifications also show only 37% of working-age people have qualifications at NVQ level 4 or above, compared with 45% for England as a whole.

“The government was elected on a promise to ‘level up’ places like the North,” said Sarah Longlands, director of IPPR North.

“But one year on, they don’t have a plan to reduce inequalities between and within regions in England, and the inadequate, centrally controlled, competitive ‘levelling up fund’ announced in the spending review simply won’t cut it.

“We have to stop assuming that the centre knows best and commit once and for all to a clear programme of regional devolution in England. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.”