Key points

  • ‘Unemployment’ is only part of the overall picture of people who lack, but want, paid work: even during the current recession, around half of all those who lack, but want, paid work were considered to be ‘economically inactive’ rather than ‘unemployed’, either because they are able to started work immediately or because they are not actively seeking work.  Lone parents and those who are sick or disabled usually count as ‘economically inactive’ rather than ‘unemployed’.  In other words, the people who lack but want paid work divide into two broad groups of roughly equal size, namely those who are officially (ILO) unemployed and those who are considered to be economically inactive but nevertheless want paid work. 1
  • In 2010, there were 100,000 people of working-age who wanted to be in paid work but were not.  This is a substantial increase compared with 2008 (75,000), with most of this increase being among those who are unemployed rather than among those who were economically inactive but wanted paid work.  It represents 9% of the total working-age population.
  • Because the trend has been downwards prior to 2008, the 2010 number is still lower than that in the mid 1990s (1995 is the earliest year for which data is available). 2
  • Of the 100,000 people, just over half were officially unemployed and just under half were economically inactive.
  • Around two-fifths of those who are officially unemployed have been unemployed for more than a year (i.e. they are long-term unemployed).
  • For an analysis of unemployment trends by age group, see the indicator on young adult unemployment.
  • At 8%, Northern Ireland has a lower proportion of its working-age population lacking but wanting paid work than any of the regions in Great Britain, just over half the rate in the North East of England (14%) and 2 percentage points lower than the rate in the lowest region of Great Britain, namely the South West of England.
  • By contrast, Northern Ireland has more of its working-age population not in paid work than any region in Great Britain: 32% averaging across 2008 to 2010 compared to a Great Britain average of 27%.  This 5 percentage point difference is entirely accounted for by two groups.  First, Northern Ireland has more students who are not in paid work than Great Britain: 8% of all working-age adults compared with 6%.  Second, Northern Ireland has more sick and disabled people who are not in paid work than Great Britain: 9% of all working-age adults compared with 5%.

Graph 2: Lacking but wanting work - compared to Great Britain

Definitions and data sources

The first two graphs concern individuals who lack, but want, paid work.

The first graph shows how the number of people aged 16 to retirement who lack, but want, paid work has changed over time.  It is divided between the long-term unemployed, the short-term unemployed and those counted as ‘economically inactive’ who nevertheless want paid work.

‘Unemployment’ is the ILO definition, which is used for the official government unemployment numbers.  It comprises all those with no paid work in the survey week who were available to start work in the next fortnight and who either looked for work in the last month or were waiting to start a job already obtained.

The ‘economically inactive who want paid work’ includes people not available to start work for some time and those not actively seeking work.  The data is based on a question asking the economically inactive whether they would like paid work or not.

The second graph shows how the proportion of people aged 16 to retirement in Northern Ireland who lack, but want, paid work compares to the regions of Great Britain, with the proportions who are unemployed and economically inactive but wanting paid work shown separately.

The third and fourth graphs concern individuals who lack paid work, whether or not they want paid work.

The third graph shows how the proportion of people aged 16 to retirement in Northern Ireland who are not working compares to the regions of Great Britain, with the data shown for both the latest year and for a decade ago.

The fourth graph breaks down, for the latest year, the workless population by type of person – student, people with disabilities, single adults, couples with children and couples without children.  For comparison purposes, the equivalent data for Great Britain is also shown.

The data source for all the graphs is the Labour Force Survey (LFS).  In all bar the fourth graph, the figures for each year are the average for the four quarters of the relevant year.  In the fourth graph, the data is the average for the second and fourth quarters as family type is not recorded in the first and third quarters.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The LFS is large, a well-established, quarterly government survey designed to be representative of the population as a whole.

1. Neither of these groups is the same as the ‘claimant count’ numbers that are often published in the media, which effectively are the numbers of people in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance. Although there is a strong overlap between ‘officially unemployed’ and ‘claimant count’, a 2008 paper from ONS listed a number of material differences, including: a) people whose partner is working; b) young people under 18 who are looking for work but do not take up the offer of a Youth Training place; c) students looking for part-time work or vacational work; and d) people who have left their job voluntarily. The reason that the media often use the claimant count numbers is simply that they are available on a more timely basis, particularly at a sub-regional level.
2. Note that, for sample size reasons, some of the numbers jump around a bit from year to year.