Recently a number of commentators and pundits have declared the recession is over. However, the publication today of the latest figures relating to the number of people in Reading claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), by the independent Office for National Statistics. suggest that for many local people the 'economic downturn', 'credit crunch', or whatever you care to call it continues to bite.
The number of people claiming unemployment benefit - specifically JSA, rose in Reading in January: from 3,970 i(n December 2009) to 4,190. This is not good news and should serve as a warning to those who think that the impact of Gordon Brown's recession is no longer being felt here, as well as a reminder that more work still needs to be done to support those affected. The claimant count as a proportion of the working age population across the South East in January was 3.6% - but in Reading it climbed to 4.3%.
Nationally, the number of people claiming unemployment benefit is the highest since Labour came to power. This is hardly a great endorsement of Labour's stewardship of the UK economy and Gordon Brown's famous pledge to "end boom and bust". And as many have observed - it is young people who are bearing the brunt of the recession.
What continues to concern me, is the fact that the largest group of people claiming JSA in Reading are aged between 20 to 24. Today's figures put this at 730 individuals.
Being out of work for any period of time can have a very damaging impact on individuals and for young people in particular. Another cause for concern in Reading is the increase in the number of people who have been out of work for over a year (claiming JSA): this has increased from 585 (Dec 09) to 640. This is a concern not least because all the evidence shows that the longer someone is out of work the harder it is them to get back into the labour market.
Nationally, whilst overall unemployment is down, the South East saw the biggest rise in unemployment during this period. - up by 12,000.
This evening at a meeting of the Corporate, Community and External Affairs Scrutiny Panel which I am a member, we heard that the number of young people not in education, education, employment or training (known as NEET) in Reading has fallen from a high of around 13.9% of 16-18 year olds (September 2009) to 6.1%. This is something I have been concerned about for some time. The decline in the number of NEETs is very welcome news and testament to the hard work that many local agencies including RBC and Connexions Berkshire have put in.
We must continue to actively support our young people in Reading to ensure they don't get left behind. The news that a number of 20 to 24 year olds are struggling to find work in Reading should be a concern for us all. At the CCEA meeting I requested that the Council as part of it's work to reduce the impact of the credit crunch locally investigates ways to support this group more effectively.
Whilst some commentators may have decided the recession is over we must not turn our back on young people in our own backyard, many of whom are still struggling. I will continue to campaign to raise the profile of the problem of youth unemployment and do my best to get action taken locally to help those affected.