Brexit and the labour market

In what is the first full year of statistics since the referendum outcome, agendaNi analyses whether economic uncertainty has had any impact on the labour market.

The Northern Ireland employment rate remains the lowest of the 12 UK regions, however, recently released statistics on the Northern Ireland labour market show a moderate fall in the unemployment rate to 5.3 per cent and a slight increase in the employment rate to 69.2 per cent, but also an increase in the economic inactivity rate to 26.9 per cent. The number of claimants for unemployment related benefits also decreased by 6,100 to 29,800.

Since late 2014 Northern Ireland has consistently been higher than the UK rate. The most recent Northern Ireland unemployment rate (5.3 per cent) is 0.9 per cent higher than the UK average and the fourth highest rate among the 12 UK regions. However, Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate remains below the European Union rate (7.8 per cent) and the Republic of Ireland’s (6.3 per cent).

The long-term unemployment rate (percentage of unemployed who have been unemployed for one year or more), rose slightly to 48.9 per cent, notedly higher that the UK average rate of 25.7 per cent. Youth unemployment (economically active 18-24 year olds who are unemployed) fell by 1.3 per cent to 12.6 per cent.

The majority of claimants continue to be male, 4.1 per cent of the total male workforce. While the female workforce rate of 2.3 per cent is notably lower, female claimants only decreased by 10.8 per cent over the year compared to the 19.8 per cent of male claimants. Youth claimant levels varied over the quarters but recognised a 25.2 per cent across the year.

All of Northern Ireland’s 11 councils recorded a decrease in claimant numbers over the year. Fermanagh and Omagh saw the biggest decrease of 22.9 per cent, while the least decrease was recorded in Mid and East Antrim (14 per cent).


The 2,870 proposed redundancies over the last year were a decrease of 41 per cent compared to the same timeframe the year previous. The 2,245 confirmed redundancies represented a decrease of 30 per cent. Of these confirmed redundancies, over half (53 per cent) were in manufacturing, 16 per cent occurred in financial and insurance activities and a further 14 per cent occurred in wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles.

Jobs by sector

Jobs that are being created in Northern Ireland appear to be in line with the overall goal of growing the private sector and reducing the bloated public sector. Over the year to March 2017, the public sector reduced some 1,770 jobs (0.9 per cent), while the private sector increased by 12,170 jobs (2.3 per cent). However, the most recent quarter of the annual statistics highlight growth in low-paid sectors such as manufacturing (0.7 per cent) and construction (2.9 per cent). Decreases were recorded in the services sector (0.3 per cent) and other industry sectors (0.4 per cent).

In conclusion, the improvements that have been recognised in the labour market are consistent with trends since 2013. The Brexit referendum appears to have had little baring on the labour market but this is likely to change once businesses act on the final deal.

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