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Current Employment and Unemployment Levels in the Borough


Claimant Count unemployment has declined substantially since its high of 4,363 (4.3%) in February 2013. Unemployment among young people aged 18-24 has also declined significantly, though still remains a concern. These reductions in local unemployment reflect a national picture of declining JSA unemployment.



ONS has identified the following groups as being of particular risk of exclusion from the labour market:


  • Disabled people
  • Lone parents
  • Ethnic minorities
  • People aged 50 and over
  • The lowest qualified
  • Residents of the most deprived wards


For people of working age who are in none of these disadvantaged groups, the employment rate is 82.6%, falling to 75.4% for those in one disadvantaged group.  For those in multiple groups, the employment rate falls dramatically - for those in 5 or 6 groups it is just 14.5% (Barrett 2010).


Nationally, the employment rate of those aged 16-64 who have an Equality Act core long-term disability which limits their day-to-day activities or who have a work-limiting disability is 49.1%.  This compares to 78.6% among those without a disability (ONS, Annual Population Survey, April 2014 – March 2015).



Additional issues which can present barriers to employment include:

  • Transport – especially rural residents and young people reliant upon public transport.
  • Caring responsibilities – those providing unpaid care, and parents who may be limited by the availability, cost and hours of operation of day care.
  • Young people who were previously looked-after children.
  • New migrants with poor English skills.
  • It is estimated that 1.275 million part-time workers in the UK, or 15% of all part-time workers, would like a full-time job.  This represents significant under-employment and masks the true level of unemployment.
  • An estimated 1 million people, many of whom are younger people, are employed on ‘zero-hours’ contracts where their employment hours and shift patterns are entirely at the discretion of the employer.  This can create problems of income insecurity and difficulty in planning other responsibilities such as child care.


Barriers faced by those with a limiting long-term illness or disability are discussed in detail in ONS 2011 and Marmot 2010.

Barriers faced by older workers are examined in Tinsley 2012.

Key Employment Inequalities in Bedford Borough

The Borough’s employment profile lags behind its neighbours and is linked to hotspot pockets of deprivation and inequality across the Borough. The area continues to have a structural problem with persistent unemployment, including youth unemployment which is a key priority locally, though unemployment levels fell significantly in 2014 and continued to decline in the first half of 2015. 


Barriers to employment in the Borough include:


  • Persistent unemployment hotspots.  At ward level, there are large differences in claimant count unemployment rates (Jobseeker’s Allowance), ranging from under 1% in some rural wards to 4.4% in Castle ward (September 2016).


  • Similarly, out-of-work benefits claimant levels are far higher in the more deprived wards, exceeding 12% of the 16-64 population in Castle and Harpur wards in February 2016 compared to the Borough average of 8.1%.


  • Though unemployment is concentrated in the urban wards, the Borough also has pockets of ‘hidden’ unemployment and deprivation in rural areas, though these are difficult to identify and quantify.


  • More than 200 residents currently claiming out-of-work benefits report transport as a significant barrier to accessing employment.


  • The employability of school leavers, including 5.4% of 16-18 year olds who were ‘non participating’ in education, employment or training (NEET) on average between November 2014 and January 2015.  The highest NEET rates were in Castle, De Parys and Kingsbrook wards.


  • In September 2016 there were 415 Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants aged 18-24 (3.3%).  This represented a major reduction from the 1,045 (7.6%) claimants in May 2013.


  • GCSE results in the Borough’s schools have traditionally lagged national levels, but there was a major improvement in 2012/13 with 60% of pupils in the Borough’s maintained schools achieving 5+ A*-C passes including English and Maths.  Partly as a result of a new national measurement regime, this declined to 52.0% in 2013/14 and remained static at 52% in 2014/15. This mirrors static results at National and Statistical Neighbour level over the same period meaning Bedford Borough remains 5% adrift from both. 


  • GCSE results vary greatly by deprivation level, with just 32.9% of pupils resident in the 20% most deprived LSOAs achieving 5+ A*-C passes including English and Maths, compared to 54.1% of pupils living in the 80% least deprived LSOAs (2013/14).


  • While it was generally believed that qualifications in the Borough lagged national averages, the 2011 Census suggests that this is no longer the case.  Of the 16-64 population, 30.1% have Level 4 (degree-level) qualifications compared to 29.8% in England and 28.1% in the region.  The proportion of the 16-64 population with No Qualifications (13.3%) is also lower than England (14.8%) or the region (14.1%) (ONS, 2011 Census, Table DC5107EWla).


  • Some ethnic groups have significantly lower formal economic activity rates; the most pronounced differences in the Borough are among Bangladeshi and Pakistani females where just 30% of Bangladeshi females aged 25-49 and 46% of Pakistani females are economically active, compared to over 80% among the total female population aged 25-49.  It should be recognised, however, that these lower participation rates may partly result from cultural differences and norms, and are not totally due to restricted access to employment opportunities.


  • English language (ESOL), literacy and numeracy training needs, along with access to support services are cited as barriers to employment amongst minority ethnic groups, both from established and new migrant communities.


  • Of the 16-64 population, 11% indicated that they have a long-term health problem or disability which affects their day-to-day activities ‘a lot’ (4,500) or ‘a little’ (6,550).  Of those Borough residents aged 16-64 who described their health as Very Bad or Bad only 29% were economically active and only 17% in full-time employment.  This compares to 82% and 55% among those with Very Good or Good health (ONS, 2011 Census, Table CT0126).


  • In May 2016, there were 4,930 Employment and Support Allowance claimants in the Borough.  The main conditions were Mental and Behavioural Disorders (2,390) and Diseases of the Musculoskeletal System (630).  Many of those with a work-limiting illness, such as a mental health condition or an illness or injury, could return to work if provided with the right support and management (Centre for Mental Health 2013).


  • There are an estimated 2,400 adults aged 18-64 in the Borough with a learning disability.  Less than 1 in 10 of those known to social services has any form of paid employment and, of those, very few work more than 16 hours per week.


  • There are an estimated 17,100 unpaid carers in Bedford Borough in 2015.  People providing high levels of unpaid care have much lower economic activity levels than those without caring responsibilities.  Among the Borough’s total population aged 25-64 in 2011, 77.4% were in employment.  There was little difference between those who did not provide care (78.3%) and those who provided 1-19 hours each week (78.9%).  However, those who provided higher levels of care had much lower employment rates, with 64.8% of those providing 20-49 hours of care being in employment, and only 46.5% of those providing 50+ hours of care each week (ONS, 2011 Census, Table CT0126).  Furthermore, even when they are in employment, carers are also much more likely than non-carers to be employed only part-time.


  • There were an estimated 340 young carers aged under 16 in 2011 and a further 870 aged 16-24.  Many young carers have low GCSE attainment, embedding a barrier to future economic wellbeing from an early age.


  • The number of lone parents in the Borough with dependent children rose from 3,210 in 2001 to 4,860 in 2011.  While an increasing number of lone parents have entered the labour market in recent years, 38% of female and 24% of male lone parents in the Borough are still not in any form of paid employment (ONS, 2011 Census, Table KS107EW).


  • The number of graduates in Bedford Borough is increasing rapidly.  Degree holders in Bedford Borough rose by 13,200 between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses.  Putting these skills to work requires ongoing growth in the number of higher value-added employment opportunities.


  • Between 2001 and 2011 the number of economically active people in the Borough aged 50+ increased by 27%, the fastest-growing segment of the labour market, though economic inactivity levels among those aged 50+ remain a concern.  This increase reflected the ageing of the population, Government initiatives to increase employment opportunities for older workers, and the growing desire of older people, particularly those over State Pension Age, to continue in work.  Self-employment among those 50 and over also grew strongly between 2001 and 2011 (by 36%).


  • The increasing numbers of people over State Pension Age who wish to remain in the labour force, either due to financial need or for the social contact and wellbeing benefits which employment offers, presents opportunities to improve economic wellbeing but also presents challenges.  Accommodation of this demand will require additional growth in employment opportunities across the Borough, and a more flexible approach on the part of employers.



Bedford Borough Job Creation and Recruitment Issues

The Brexit decision is publicised nationally as causing some trepidation and lack of confidence in commercial property investment and occupation. Some consultation with local businesses and specifically manufacturers highlighted the weaker pound as raising costs of raw materials and therefore impacting profit margins. Despite aforementioned issues in property sector, a number of large significant employment sites along the A421 in Bedford are progressing as investment agreed and not predicted to stall. Residential development around the borough is also progressing well with construction progressive and around 1000 unit completions per annum.      

Bedford Borough is maintaining a relatively high level of interest in new investment and business enquiries with approximately 672 enquiries received by the Council for the period 2015/16. The number of jobs created and safeguarded following inward investment and indigenous company relocation during 2015/16 was 309.

The town centre Riverside North leisure scheme is on course to complete next year and a number of other sites / significant units are now occupied and operational including Apex Business Park on Cambridge Road by Travis Perkins related brands and the large centrum building on Cambridge Road occupied by FTSE 100 company Johnson Matthey.   

The latest performance figures for 2014/15 show 1,350 all-age apprenticeship starts, a rise of almost 12% from the previous year compared to a national increase less than 1%.  The Borough is performing well this year relative to England; however it still has a 'catch up' challenge with the national figures in terms of apprenticeship participation per head of population and a relatively low number of vacancies available.


Connecting those residents who are most in need to jobs and local opportunities, and supporting business to create additional local jobs for the unemployed are key local priorities.


Local recruitment issues which have been identified in surveys and in discussions with employers, job applicants, and professionals and community groups involved in employment and training include:

  • A mismatch between the jobs that unemployed residents are looking for versus the type, level and remuneration of jobs available  
  • Challenges in identifying sufficient young emerging talent within schools to support local employers’ needs
  • Limited and fragmented support towards enterprise, since the withdrawal of Business Link services
  • Groups of residents with limited language, literacy and numeracy skills preventing them from accessing employment
  • Lack of practical mathematics and measurement skills demanded by employers
  • Lack of general employability skills, confidence and the motivation to access local opportunities available
  • A growing trend towards online recruitment brings challenges of IT skill requirements and the ability to succeed in online applications. This challenge is faced by young school leavers as well as older residents.


The South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) commissions an Annual Business Survey.The main objective of the research is to identify the economic challenges and opportunities facing businesses in the area and inform the Council’s approach to the development and delivery of economic development activities. 


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