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Can retail halt rise in youth unemployment?


Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released today shows that unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK increased 0.1 per cent in the three months to February 2011, compared to the previous quarter.

Figures show that 963,000 people from that age group were without a job during the period, representing a rise of 12,000 quarter-on-quarter.

The number of unemployed 16 to 17-year-olds increased by 14,000 on the quarter to reach 218,000, while there were 745,000 18 to 24-year-olds without a job in total.

As the figures are digested today, questions will inevitably be asked about how rising youth unemployment can be stemmed.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) Director General Stephen Robertson said in January that the retail industry was relatively well placed to provide jobs for the younger generation in the first quarter of 2011.

Commenting in January, after the BRC and Bond Pearce published its Retail Employment Monitor for the final three months of 2010, he said that retail job numbers had increased 0.6 per cent year-on-year and he was positive about prospects for the start of 2011.

“Almost two-thirds of retailers say they will add to or maintain job numbers over the next three months and new stores are still being opened,” he explained.

Since then, however, consumer confidence has plummeted and retailers have reported worryingly large sales falls, culminating in yesterday’s news from the BRC and KPMG that the March trading slump was the deepest on record.

So has Robertson’s prediction now been thrown into doubt?

BRC spokesperson Richard Dodd told Retail Gazette today that it is unclear what the results of the retail jobs monitor for the first quarter of 2011 will be when they are revealed on April 28th, but there are a number of areas of concern.

“Retailers are financing a lot of discounts at present,” he said.

“There are a huge number of demands and pressure on retailers, meaning they will certainly be watching costs even more closely than usual.”

With retail employment rising in each of the three BRC-Bond Pearce quarterly monitors to date, the industry has been a strong source of job creation in the last year but questions remain about whether this pattern will continue.

The UK unemployment landscape is not all doom and gloom though, with the ONS indicating that there were more people in work during the three months to February than there were in the previous quarter.

Although painting a negative picture of youth unemployment, the data shows, encouragingly, that overall unemployment in the UK actually dropped 0.1 per cent on the quarter to reach 2.48 million.

Trends of a similar nature next month would be a positive indication that the economy is growing again, and this month’s forthcoming BRC-Bond Pearce research will provide more evidence about whether the retail industry is playing its part in reducing the UK’s worrying high jobless total.

Published on Wednesday 13 April by Editorial Assistant

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