FERMANAGH’S employment landscape has been dealt another blow after figures show the council area suffered a dramatic rise in the number of benefit claimants.
Newly released figures reflect the growing number of people out of work in Fermanagh with unemployment rates soaring by almost 10%.
It leaves Fermanagh peaking at the top of the claimant table, behind Larne which has risen by 13.3%, in terms of the number of extra claimants over the last 12 months.
Concerns over the figures have been mounting after it was revealed that Fermanagh is sitting well above the Northern Ireland average.
Neighbouring Omagh District Council recorded a drop in the number of claimants throughout the year which fell by 1.6%, while Derry council rose by just 0.1%.
The figures come on the back of the G8 Summit hosted in Enniskillen this week as the leaders of the eight richest countries came together to discuss world affairs.
A number of reasons have been cited to explain the dramatic rise of claimants in the local area, with some pointing towards those who have moved to the self-employment sector and “may not” be included in the figures.
However Fermanagh Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan believes the lack of jobs and changes to the benefit system has had a knock-on effect to Fermanagh.
He said: “The fact we use claimant figures to measure the amount of people in work masks how bad the situation is.
“People, especially the young, are emigrating from Fermanagh because they can’t find work.
“Locals are being forced to come off Jobseekers allowance as they no longer qualify for it after the changes were made to the benefits system. People are moved from incapacity benefit to Jobseekers allowance and being forced in to look for work that isn’t there.
“There should be significant investment made into creating more jobs in rural areas as Fermanagh and other areas are being hammered.
“We were told that the millions being spent on tourism would create more jobs but tourism fell by 2.5% last year. Fermanagh never felt the benefits of this tourism investment,” he added.
Figures for Fermanagh District Council show that over the 12 months, there are an extra 183 claimants, or 9.8 per cent of the working population.
By comparison, the figures for Omagh District Council showed a reduction in claimants of 26 and, over the previous month, 51.
The claimant figures for May were – 1,138 men and 509 females, representing 4.8 per cent of the working population.
However firgures for Fermanagh area for May show that, compared to April, there were 23 less benefits claimants.
The total claimant figure comprised 1,471 men and 575 females, which represents, when combined, 5.1 per cent of the working population.
Ann Quinn, Economic Development Officer for Enniskillen, said there was a “drip feed” trend of unemployed locals.
She said: “Fermanagh has traditionally had a problem with long term employment in a sense that we are good at setting businesses up but there’s a problem with business growth.
“We have people who are very well qualified and those who aren’t and both seem to be struggling to find work.
“People leaving schools and university with an education are more equipped to find work but then we have people leaving school without any qualifications.
“And it’s very hard to get work without some sort of qualification.
“It’s not just for Fermanagh who has this issue but it’s right across Northern Ireland.
“In other towns we often hear off mass redundancies after a closure of a firm or factory.
“But in Fermanagh there is a drip feed of employers letting people go that we just don’t realise.
“We don’t get informed about it as they are so little, but it’s happening all the time.
“That’s just the way it is.
“If it was a big announcement with hundreds of jobs being created or lost then we would hear all about it but that hasn’t happened in a long time.” she added.