Managers play down Fenland jobless benefit claims increase

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Unemployment rates in Fenland are on a downward trend despite a rise in benefit claims, according to employment service chiefs.

The number of people out of work and claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) in the district rose by 70 in January to 801, the first monthly increase for a year.

But Julia Nix, JobCentre Plus district manager for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, said the increase in claims was a seasonal trend which was expected each year.

She said: “It hasn’t gone up by as much as some years. The overall picture is still going downwards.”

More than 700 fewer people are now claiming JSA than at the same time last year.

And the overall rate of unemployment, though still just above the regional average at 5.4 per cent of the workforce, has almost halved since its peak in 2012.

Mrs Nix said that more than 95 per cent of people who sign on for JSA at the Wisbech job centre find new work within 12 months, a rate above the regional average.

The service has faced criticism from opponents who claim that staff are more interested in sanctioning claimants than helping them to find work.

But Mrs Nix said: “You have to put a lot of effort in (to find a job) and if people aren’t looking, then it’s right that we challenge that.”

She insisted that recipients were not expected to take work which was unsuitable for them, giving the example of not expecting a vegetarian to work in a meat processing plant.

And she said claimants are only sanctioned after three incidents in which they had either rejected work, interviews or training without a reasonable reason for doing so.

She added that she had personally overturned sanctions where she believed that staff had acted unreasonably.