Coronavirus: The areas of the UK where unemployment is rising fastest

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3 mins read
Crawley saw the biggest rise in unemployment in the UK. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Crawley saw the biggest rise in unemployment in the UK. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Unemployment has risen most in a string of towns and cities in southern England with strong local economies over the summer, according to new figures.

Analysis of official data shows the areas in the UK where joblessness has risen fastest, as well as the areas where unemployment overall is highest.

Research by the Centre for Cities found eight of the 10 towns and cities with the biggest recent increase in joblessness were in the south. Three of the four towns most affected are very close to airports, and could reflect rising redundancies in aviation — Crawley (Gatwick), Slough (Heathrow) and Luton.

It marks a contrast with the earlier stages of the crisis as Britain went into lockdown, when town and cities in the north saw a “stark rise” in unemployment-linked benefit claims. The latest figures suggest the unemployment rate in such areas has almost stabilised, with much smaller recent increases.

The analysis shines a new light on Office for National Statistics (ONS) labour market data published on Tuesday, which showed the official unemployment rate rise to 4.1% between May and July.

READ MORE: Chancellor says ‘job done’ on furlough despite rising unemployment

Employers axed 695,000 jobs between March and August, according to the data. Meanwhile the number of people claiming unemployment and low-income benefits stood at 2.7 million in August, up 120.8% since March.

The UK government is under mounting pressure to hand employers another lifeline, as its furlough scheme is being gradually wound down and finishes altogether at the end of October.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak faced a flurry of warnings from economists, business chiefs and Labour on Tuesday that a wave of job losses would only continue this autumn without further action.

The latest analysis suggests the crisis facing aviation is spilling over into unemployment in local economies reliant on major airports. Crawley, Slough and Luton have seen the biggest rise in benefit claims not only in the July-August period compared to a month earlier but also since Britain went into lockdown

The claimant count has increased by 5.4 percentage points in Slough and Luton since March, and 4.7 points in Crawley. Rising unemployment shows no signs of tailing off, with the rate edging 0.4 percentage points higher in Crawley and Slough in the most recent month alone, and 0.3 points higher in Luton.

READ MORE: UK employers have axed 695,000 jobs since March as unemployment rate rises

The coronavirus crisis appears to be quickly reshaping the grim league tables of areas with the highest unemployment.

“Places with historically weaker economies continue to have larger numbers of people claiming unemployment benefits, but they are now joined by a handful of otherwise successful cities that have been hardest hit during the pandemic,” said the Centre for Cities.

The claimant count in Sunderland was 75% higher than in Slough in March, but they now have the same rate, according to the think tank.

READ MORE: UK firms warn on ‘triple threat’ of local lockdowns, Brexit and furlough wind-up

London, Brighton, Basildon, Chatham, and Cambridge were among the other southern areas which saw unemployment rising fast in the most recent period. Aberdeen and Birmingham also featured in the top 10.

The think tank highlighted the impact of remote working in a blogpost on its website. “The unemployment rate may continue to increase in cities with strong economies while people continue to work from home — leaving city centre pubs, restaurants and shops without customers.”