Live Register falls below 400,000 for first time since crash

Latest CSO figures indicate numbers signing on decline for 20th successive month


The number of people signing on the Live Register has fallen below 400,000 for the first time since the height of the crash.

The latest figures from the Central Statistic Office (CSO) indicated the number of people claiming benefits dropped by 2,500 last month, the 20th successive monthly decline.

The seasonally adjusted register, which includes casual and part-time workers as well as those on Jobseeker’s Allowance, was 398,300 at the end of February, dipping under 400,000 for the first time since May 2009.

The figures represented an annual decline of 30,807 or 7.2 per cent.

This gave rise to an unemployment rate of 11.9 per cent last month, the lowest level in more than four years, and also below the euro zone average of 12 per cent.

Although the annual decrease came from both long-term and short-term unemployment categories, the greatest decline was amongst those unemployed for less than a year.

The figures showed short-term claimants fell by 9.1 per cent (21,836) during the previous 12 months, while long-term claimants fell by 4.7 per cent (8,971).

As a result, the proportion of long-term unemployed continued to increase and stood at 45.3 per cent or 180,496 last month, compared with 44.2 per cent one year ago and 41.8 per cent two years ago.

The number of under-25s on the register corresponded to about 15.1 per cent of the overall in February, despite falling by 8,129 or 11.9 per cent over the year.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the figures were encouraging and signalled Ireland’s return to being a “normal euro zone country”.

“A 12 per cent unemployment rate is still far too high and that is why, this year and beyond, my absolute priority will be to ensure that the live register falls substantially further, with full employment the central target,” she said.

“Employers will be key to this. We want employers in Ireland to follow the example of their counterparts in countries like Germany and Austria and be willing to give not only young jobseekers but also long-term unemployed people the necessary work, training and apprenticeship opportunities.”

But Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams accused the Government of massaging unemployment figures through “forced labour” schemes like JobBridge and Gateways.

“[THE] scheme forces unemployed people to carry out work for local authorities with threats of cuts or suspension of welfare payments, even though it pays only a fraction of the minimum wage,” he said.

“It involves no training or education, has no prospect of long-term employment for those forced to take part and local authorities have been given an allocation of 3,000 places to fill.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, however, rejected the claims and insisted people need experience to get a job, adding the back-to-work programmes were making visible changes at community level.

“The Gateways scheme does not force people into employment... many of these people want to make a contribution,” he said.

“People do like to make a contribution, people do like to get out of the rut of long-term unemployment.”

Mark Fielding, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, welcomed “the slight drop” in the figures but cautioned the Government against complacency.

It also warned that business costs must be reduced if substantial employment gains are to be made and maintained.

Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton alos welcomed the figures, noting the fact that it appeared all regions were now experiencing job growth, not just the main centres for foreign direct investments such as Dublin, Cork and Galway.