Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Where the UK recession is biting

Michael Buchanan
Radio 4's World at One

Previous recessions in the UK have had a disproportionate impact on regions with substantial manufacturing industry such as the north of England, the Midlands and south Wales.

But this one looks different.

Simon Waller
I've been signing on here for probably 3 months now and nothing's happening. I've never been out of work before
Simon Waller, Unemployed carpet fitter, Abingdon

All parts of the UK are being affected, but a comparison of the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) in January reveals the areas experiencing the biggest increase in unemployment compared with a year earlier.

Jobseeker's Allowance is regarded by experts as the best measure of job losses, as it is paid only to people who have lost their jobs and are actively looking for work.

A new analysis by BBC Radio 4's World at One programme reveals the local authority areas suffering the biggest changes during the recession.

The three highest percentage rises are in the same parts of Northern Ireland - Magherafelt, Dungannon and Cookstown - all in Mid Ulster.

"These 3 areas have had relatively low levels of unemployment so the sharp rise in unemployment is coming from a very low base," says Richard Ramsey, Northern Ireland economist at Ulster Bank.

LARGEST INCREASES IN JSA CLAIMANTS BY LOCAL AUTHORITY
Jan 2009 compared with Jan 2008
Magherafelt (Mid Ulster): 186%
Dungannon (Mid Ulster): 161%
Cookstown (Mid Ulster): 149%
Vale of White Horse (west of Swindon): 147%
East Dorset (north of Poole): 146%
Purbeck (south-east of Poole): 144%
Source: Office for National Statistics, Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise Trade & Investment

"If you look at the Magherafelt and Cookstown areas in particular, they have a large exposure to the construction sector and Northern Ireland as a whole has a larger exposure to the construction sector than any other UK region.

"Within Northern Ireland it's these areas in Mid Ulster that have the highest concentrations of construction. So given the housing market downturn, it is not surprising that these areas have been hit hardest."

'New problem'

Next worst effected in percentage terms is a stretch of the M4 corridor covering the Vale of White Horse District Council (Oxfordshire), Swindon, North Wiltshire and neighbouring Kennet.

Inner London boroughs are among the least affected, according to the World at One analysis.

Sam Marlow (left) and Yasmin Simpson
I applied for one receptionist job... they had over 200 people applying
Yasmin Simpson (right), former Zavvi employee, Swindon

One of the 613 new JSA claimants in the Vale of White Horse area is Simon Waller, who was recently visiting the Job Centre Plus in Abingdon.

A carpet fitter, he was laid off when the company he worked for went into administration.

"I've been signing on here for probably 3 months now and nothing's happening. I've never been out of work before and it's a bit of a joke, really. It's doing my head in."

At least there is a job centre in Abingdon.

A few miles down the road in Wantage - where retail, commercial and manufacturing companies have all closed down in recent months - many of the newly unemployed have turned to a local charity, the Independent Advice Centre.

One of the centre's volunteers, Geoff Hamer, says the sharp rise in unemployment is a new challenge to the town.

"We have had very good employment up till now, particularly in the scientific area. With that drying up, we're faced with a new problem which really hasn't hit this area before.

"In the last 6 months, we've seen an increase in the number of people going for bankruptcy."

SMALLEST INCREASES IN JSA CLAIMANTS BY LOCAL AUTHORITY
Jan 2009 compared with Jan 2008
Hackney (east London): 11%
Isles of Scilly: 13%
Tower Hamlets (east London): 14%
Southwark (south London): 17%
Lambeth (south London): 18%
Newham (east London): 18%
Source: Office for National Statistics, Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise Trade & Investment

A couple of junctions further along the M4 and you hit more areas that have seen large rises in JSA claimants.

Among the more than 2,500 newly unemployed in Swindon are Sam Marlow and Yasmin Simpson.

Both were laid off when the Zavvi music and DVD chain closed down, and are finding it difficult adjusting to being unemployed for the first time in their lives.

"I applied for one receptionist job and they sent me a letter thanking me for my application but they had over 200 people applying for the same job," says Yasmin.

A recent analysis of the local economy by Swindon Borough Council concluded that the town is being hit in a number of areas - wholesale and retail (including the national distribution centre for Woolworths), engineering, construction and financial services.

All the local authorities that recorded the highest increases are in areas where unemployment has been very low in recent years.

Conversely inner London boroughs, which appear to have suffered less than other parts of the country, have higher residual levels of unemployment.

This partly explains why, statistically, they appear to be doing rather better.

In addition, adds Dr Helen Hill, policy director at the London Chamber of Commerce, "although many areas like the City, Westminster and the western portion of Tower Hamlets may have seen job cuts, many of these would have fallen on individuals who did not reside in these areas, choosing instead to commute in from parts of outer London and the Home Counties".

Michael Buchanan reports for Radio 4's World at One and PM programmes.



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