Coronavirus impact: Huge rise in Scots claiming unemployment benefit

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The latest figures on the labour market point to a huge increase in people claiming unemployment benefit in Scotland.

Across the UK in April, claimants went up by 856,500, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates.

Its figures suggest the number of people claiming unemployment benefit in Scotland increased by 66.9% – which would be up about 75,000 to 188,000.

The April figures, which come from the UK Labour Force survey, are estimates.

The official figures only go up to the end of March, just after coronavirus lockdown began.

The ONS said enhancements to Universal Credit as part of the UK government’s response to Covid-19 meant that an increasing number of people became eligible for unemployment-related benefit support, although still employed.

This means changes in the Claimant Count will not be due wholly to changes in the number of people who are unemployed.

In April, which was the first full month of lockdown, figures showed the number of people claiming unemployment benefit in the UK soared to 2.1 million.

They also revealed a sharp fall in hours worked and job vacancies.

What do the figures not include?

The figures do not capture the impact of 7.5 million people across the UK on furlough, and millions of self-employed people whose income has been severely hit.

These estimated figures from the Office for National Statistics show that Scotland’s claimant count went up by 66.9% in April with the UK Claimant Count level increasing by 69.1%.

The official Labour Market statistics only cover the three months to the end of March and do not yet reflect the “unprecedented impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scottish government said.

The latest official figures for Scotland cover January and February, when the jobs market was improving, as well as March.

The lockdown, which saw about a quarter of firms stop trading, was officially introduced on 23 March so its full impact is not seen in the statistics.

‘Don’t reflect full impact’

Scotland’s employment rate was slightly lower than the UK’s, with 74.7% of those aged 16 to 64 (2,666,000 people) in work for the period January to March compared with 76.6%.

The unemployment rate north of the border was 4.1% (113,000 workers), which was higher than the 3.9% recorded for the UK as a whole.

In comparison, the previous figures for December 2019 to February 2020 indicated 2,689,000 Scots were in work while 105,000 were not.

Scottish government Business Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “While these rates compare well against historical records, they do not reflect fully the unprecedented impact of the pandemic and how it will change over time.”

He said the Job Retention Scheme, which pays the wages of people whose jobs have stopped due to the pandemic, will have offered some relief but he was “deeply concerned” about the future of their livelihoods.

“We are acutely aware of the huge impact the lockdown measures are having on people and businesses throughout the country,” Mr Hepburn added.

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