THE number of people employed in the east of England is at a record high - up 83,000 on the year before, according to Labour Market statistics published today.

The regional employment rate is also the highest it has been at 79 per cent meanwhile, in the UK, unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in 44 years.

Employment minister, Alok Sharma, praised the figures, which claim to show a higher rate of women being in work and that wages have continued to outstrip inflation for 12 consecutive months.

However, one Colchester benefits expert said they should be looked at with sceptism.

Mr Sharma said: “Today’s employment figures are further evidence of the strong economy the Chancellor detailed in last week’s Spring Statement, showing how our pro-business policies are delivering record employment.

“2019 has continued to be a record breaker, with the employment rate topping 76 per cent for the first time, record female employment and unemployment falling below four per cent for the first time in 44 years.

“Our jobs market remains resilient as we see more people than ever before benefitting from earning a wage.”

A total of 371,000 more people are employed now in the east of England since 2010, according to the statistics, and the economic inactivity rate has dropped to a record 18 per cent.

Dave Cope, district operations manager for the Department for Work and Pensions in Essex, said: “What this really means is there's more people working than there historically has been.

Halstead Gazette:

Dave Cope outside a Jobcentre Plus in Southend

"Workless households, which is important to consider because of the families, has fallen since 2010 by 73,000.

"There are far fewer people with genuine flexible or zero-hour contracts than there ever has been, although for some people there is room in the labour market for them, while the service economy and hospitality sector continues to grow.

"Wages are moving in a more positive direction as well."

But eight out of 14 Essex council areas saw rises of more than 45 per cent in the numbers of adults, aged 16 and over, claiming unemployment benefits since February 2018.

This includes Colchester (52 per cent), Braintree (48 per cent), Basildon (51 per cent) and Uttlesford (58 per cent).

Maldon was the only Essex local authority area analysed to have less claimants.

However, Mr Cope explained the roll-out of Universal Credit has skewed the figures because it takes into account more claimants than Jobseeker's Allowance ever did.

"Absolutely, across Essex there does look like there have been massive increases in the numbers of people unemployed, but what's probably happened is the economy has slowed down - but that's not unique to anywhere in the country," he said.

"There is economic uncertainty, some of that is political, and employers may be a little more reluctant to invest than this time last year.

"My officers are dealing with more people as a result of Universal Credit and a much wider range of people, but that's not because there are more people without work, there's more people regarded as being available for work."

Youth employment statistics released today also highlighted a rise in the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who were unemployed between November and January 2019, on the previous quarter.

The Parliamentary report states 500,000 young people were unemployed - down 35,000 from the year before – and the number who are economically inactive, so not in work or looking for work, has dropped by almost 100,000.

Simon Collyer, whose Association of Pensions and Benefits Claimants (ABC) has launched Work TV to motivate youngsters into their careers, believes all of today’s data should be met with caution.

Halstead Gazette:

Simon Collyer with Essex MEP Alex Mayer at Essex University

He said: “Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high in the developed world - figures can be misleading because there is a third factor other than employed and unemployed, that of people who are economically inactive, of which there are around 8.5 million in the UK economy.

"Since Universal Credit has been introduced, the Labour Force Survey is being used which is a sophisticated guestimate done to international standards, rather than the claimant count.  

"There has been the phenomenon of employment going up but wages dropping.

"Apprenticeship schemes suffered initially from a poor take-up but there is a lot of activity in this area.

"Ironically, it has been argued that your age and being over 35 in the employment market, starts to count against you."

His advice then to young people?

"Young people need skills and a plan, plus some grit and determination to get a foot in the door," Mr Collyer added.

"The good news is families have been having fewer children and eventually young workers in the UK will actually be in short supply. Until then, things will remain difficult."