West Norfolk’s unemployment rate remains on a downward trend despite a rise in the number of benefit claims lodged in the area.
The number of people who are out of work and claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) rose by 82 in January to 1,268, according to new figures released on Wednesday.
And the overall level of unemployment remains higher than the East Anglian regional average.
But Julia Nix, JobCentre Plus district manager for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, insisted the increase in benefit claims was a seasonal trend which was expected each year.
She said: “It hasn’t gone up by as much as some years. The overall picture is still going downwards.”
The latest statistics for the overall level of unemployment suggests that 6.1 per cent of West Norfolk’s workforce is not in work, down from a peak of nearly eight per cent in the autumn of 2012.
But that figure is still 0.8 per cent above the Eastern regional rate of 5.3 per cent.
However, Mrs Nix believes the main reason for that is geographical.
She said: “If you’re in Bury St Edmunds or Cambridge, your logistics are far easier.”
Mrs Nix is in charge of all 28 job centres in the three counties and said that almost 94 per cent of people who sign on for JSA at Lynn find new work within 12 months, in line with the regional average.
The service has faced criticism from opponents, including a contributor to the Lynn News letters pages last month, who claim that staff are more interested in sanctioning claimants than helping them to find work.
But Mrs Nix said: “You have to put a lot of effort in (to find a job) and if people aren’t looking, then it’s right that we challenge that.”
She insisted that recipients were not expected to take work which was unsuitable for them, giving the example of not expecting a vegetarian to work in a meat processing plant.
And she said claimants are only sanctioned after three incidents in which they had either rejected work, interviews or training without a reasonable reason for doing so.
She added that she had personally overturned sanctions where she believed that staff had acted unreasonably.