Birmingham view from high up with BT tower

Why is Birmingham’s unemployment rate still one of the highest in the UK despite generating 69k jobs last year?

Have you heard the latest local employment news? The number of West Midland residents in work has skyrocketed over the last year, with unemployment falling by 17,000 people – generating 69,000 new jobs across the region. With this in mind, we find it highly frustrating that on the other end of the scale Birmingham’s unemployment rate is still one of the highest in the UK at 5%. So, we thought we’d delve a little deeper and try and find out why this is.

West Midlands unemployment facts:

  • 143,000 people are currently unemployed across the West Midlands
  • Unemployment benefit claims with the highest rates show 4 in 10 constituencies are situated in Birmingham
  • Birmingham Ladywood has the second highest claimant rate in the UK; 6,260 claimants (6.2% of the working-age population) followed by Great Yarmouth and then Birmingham Hodge Hill, Birmingham Erdington and Birmingham Perry Barr.

*Official stats.

Nationally, the latest statistics show more people than ever are in work. BUT:

West Midlands employment facts:

  • 8% of all workers in Birmingham were ‘non-permanent’ (aka ‘zero-hours’, seasonal, casual or agency temping), meaning that approx. 38,100 people in the city lack job security
  • Birmingham has one of the highest proportions of temporary workers in the UK
  • Across the West Midlands region, this equates to around 70,700 people on non-permanent contracts.

*ONS data

Of course, non-permanent contracts suit some people perfectly, as they can be a lot more flexible than permanent positions. However, these temporary positions lack long-term security and a stable wage. We’re sure you’re aware that there’s a lot of controversy around zero-hour contracts, with quite a few active campaigns to ban them.

Could temporary contracts be putting people off?… Or could there be another reason?…

People with mental illness & disabilities much less likely to be employed in Birmingham?

Recent figures released by the NHS show us that people with mental illnesses are much less likely to be employed than others in Birmingham.

  • 39% of those suffering with a mental illness in Birmingham were employed at the end of last year, in comparison to 64% of the general population; approx. 40,500 people diagnosed with a mental illness in Birmingham were out of work in 2017
  • Across the country ,the figure isn’t much better, with around 45% of people with a mental illness employed in comparison to 78% of the general public
  • The term ‘mental illness’ covers an array of conditions including learning difficulties and disabilities, where the gap widens further when you focus on specific conditions e.g. across the country, 46% of people with depression are employed whilst a shocking 27% of people with a learning difficulty or disability are in work.

*NHS data

It’s important to remember that The Equality Act 2010 is there to protect disabled employees. However, it’s all about feeling confident in coming forward to benefit from it and sadly many don’t.

Whatever is going on, we believe that more employers in Birmingham should be creating a culture of continual learning within their business models by offering high quality apprenticeship opportunities to all ages, all backgrounds and all abilities.

With equal opportunities tightly woven into our legacy, what a general employer might see as a barrier to work is actually seen as a doorway into work with Shelforce. Get in touch to find out more about what we do.


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We have an impressive history which stretches back to 1839 when we were a workplace for the visually impaired.

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