BANBRIDGE has the third fastest rising unemployment in Northern Ireland - with at least 29 redundancies for local people in the past three months.
The shocking figure exposes the fact that, despite claims the recession is easing off, local people are still struggling with joblessness and its effects.
Currently 1,121 people are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. That figure has risen by a staggering 10.4 per cent in the past year alone - third only to Ards and Armagh - and the manager of Banbridge Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) said the figure has been rapidly increasing for the past three years at least.
“It has been rising for quite some time,” said Margaret Ellis. “Certainly we’ve seen an increase in the number of people approaching the bureau with problems relating to money.
“Redundancies have been an increasing problem in the past two or three years. More of the queries are relating to unemployment matters.
“Our debt advisor has seen quite a big increase in the amount of debt being experienced by people.”
And, despite its reputation as quite an affluent area, Banbridge has now become one of the worst hit areas in the past twelve months.
Margaret, who said the bureau has dealt with at least 29 queries from local people who have been made redundant in the past three months, added that many people seeking advice from the CAB have never had to claim benefits before and find the whole process quite stressful.
“Banbridge would have been seen as quite a prosperous area,” she said. “But now we are seeing people who have never had the need to approach the bureau before or get advice about money before.
“There are a lot more people using the benefits system for the first time and that is a very daunting experience as it has become more and more complex over the years.”
Upper Bann MLA said Sam Gardiner said the figure is very worrying.
“I am concerned that Northern Ireland has not turned the corner in reducing unemployment yet even though the rest of the UK has,” said Mr Gardiner. “Much more needs to be done by the Executive to address this issue because behind every unemployed person there is a family. Far more people are involved in the effects of this than just the headline numbers.”
The Assembly member said more emphasis needs to be placed on job creation and protecting jobs that already exist.
“The Northern Ireland departments could make a start on this by looking again at their budgets and seeing if they could prioritise their spending on job creation and job protection measures,” he said.
“If the Bain report on relocating Government jobs was activated then it could see up to 1,500 well-paid jobs coming to the Upper Bann area and that would help in reversing this worrying increase in Banbridge unemployment.”