West Norfolk jobless total is almost halved in 2014

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Jobless benefit claims in West Norfolk have almost halved in 2014, according to new figures which were released this week.

The number of people who are out of work and claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) in the borough stood at 1,253 in November, a fall of 17 on the previous month.

But statistics published on Wednesday show that total has fallen by around 48 per cent from its 2014 peak of 2,401 in February.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham has welcomed the figures, which he claims demonstrate that the government’s economic plans are working.

He said: “This is tremendous news for the local economy and I would like to thank all businesses, large or small, that have contributed to this very encouraging outlook.”

Almost 2,000 fewer people are now claiming JSA across the borough since the total peaked at 3,117 in February 2010 at the height of the recession.

But, though estimates for the total rate of unemployment covering all those who are not in work have also fallen, they remain above the regional average.

And Jo Rust, Labour’s candidate for the North West Norfolk seat currently held by Mr Bellingham, claimed the lower benefit figures did not reflect the reality of life for many people in the area.

She said she had been contacted by people who had been sanctioned and been left without any payments at all for several weeks, while people on zero hour contracts or deals with only a small number of hours were also not included.

Mrs Rust said: “We’re being told positive things about an improved economy, but the reality for many of us is very different.”

However, the government claims that full-time jobs have accounted for 95 per cent of the new jobs created across Britain over the past year.

And Mr Bellingham said wages were now rising faster than prices. It was revealed this week that the rate of inflation had fallen to just one per cent.

He also pointed out that Britain has the fastest growing economy in the European Union and said 1.7 million more people are in work than when the government took power.

He said: “Of course there is no room for complacency because, although the deficit is down by half, we cannot relax until we have a balanced budget. The only way to secure this is through growth.”

But Mrs Rust said the government’s preferred method of measuring inflation underestimates the rising costs faced by families.

And she warned that reduced council tax benefits would make life even more difficult for those on low incomes.

Last year, West Norfolk Council introduced a reduced scheme of council tax benefits, which will remain unchanged for the coming financial year, following the abolition of a central government scheme.

Mrs Rust said around 90 per cent of people who had responded to her survey of residents’ concerns said they were feeling a financial squeeze.

And she added: “We’re going to see more people facing an even greater struggle.”