Caution despite Devon and Cornwall jobless figure at lowest since November 2008
Business leaders have urged caution despite claims the Westcountry economy is in "recovery" after the region's dole queue was at its shortest for almost five years.
Some 22,825 people were claiming Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA) in Devon and Cornwall in July, just over 1,000 fewer than in June. The figure is 5,000 lower than a year ago.
But some have warned the headline figure is misleading as while more people may be in work, they are accepting jobs with fewer hours and worse pay than before the financial crash.
The leap in the figures during the summer months is partly the result of seasonal jobs in tourism and farming that fade away in autumn.
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But the total for the two counties has fallen below 23,000 for the first time since November 2008 when it was 20,775. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly recorded a drop in the claimant count of 415 people to 7,280, and in Devon county the fall was 235 to 7,485. Plymouth's rate was lower by 190 to 5,220 people and the number of people claiming JSA in Torbay fell by 155 to 2,845.
George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, said: "These figures are very welcome and are further evidence that the Cornish economy has started to turn the corner and that a recovery is underway."
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, welcomed the improving numbers but said the health of the region's economy remains well off pre-recession buoyancy. He said: "A note of caution is required. We still have a problem with unemployment so comparisons to 12 months ago – when we were in the teeth of one of the worst crises in 100 years – can be misleading. We are also seeing discounted wage levels with rates averaging 2001 levels as a result of part-time work and zero-hour contracts."
The wider measure of unemployment – which includes more than just people claiming the benefit – fell by 5,000 in the greater South West to 162,000 in the latest quarter to July. The six-county region has the joint lowest rate of joblessness in the UK at 6%. The figure is not broken down more locally.
On a national scale, the number of people claiming JSA fell to its lowest level for more than four years and employment reached a record high, but long-term and youth unemployment increased.
Total unemployment fell by 4,000 in the quarter to June to 2.5 million. Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: "The figures paint a positive picture of the UK labour market. There are now more jobs available than at any time since the end of 2008, and more hours being worked than ever before."
But Labour's Shadow Employment Minister Stephen Timms said: "Any increase in employment is to be welcomed, but the real story of the labour market is a living standards crisis with falling real wages, and millions working harder for less."