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As nationally, Bedford Borough was greatly impacted by the recession, and unemployment levels rose sharply from pre-recession levels.

Claimant count4 unemployment, which measures those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, rose from a low of 1,918 in December 2007 to a peak of 4,363 in February 2013. 

However, since then unemployment has declined steadily, as it has across England, and fell below 3,000 in May 2014 (2,977) for the first time since December 2008.  

It has since continued to decline, falling to 1,958 in September 2015.

Unemployment in September 2015 represented 1.9% of the working age population (16-64), higher than the rates for England (1.6%) and the East of England (1.2%):

Jobseeker’s Allowance Claimant Count, September 2001- September 2015

Unemployment September2015
Source: Jobseeker’s Allowance Claimant Count, ONS via Nomis, accessed October 2015

At ward level there are large differences in unemployment rates, ranging from under 1% in some rural wards to 4.2% in Castle ward and 3.7% in Harpur:

Jobseeker’s Allowance Claimant Count by Ward, September 2015

Ward Unemployment September 2015
Source: Jobseeker’s Allowance Claimant Count, ONS via Nomis, accessed October 2015.  Ward calculations by the Community Intelligence Team, Bedford Borough Council. 


Age, Gender and Duration of Claimant Count Unemployed

Unemployment among the 18-24 age group has declined significantly since its high of 1,105 in February 2013, and stood at 300 in September 2015.  Reducing unemployment among this age group and ensuring that all young people have access to training opportunities is a key government and local priority.

Not only did unemployment increase as a result of the recession, but the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than 12 months also rose sharply. From 255 and 12% of all claimants in February 2008, this rose steadily to 1,245 and 30% of claimants in May 2013.

Though the number claiming for more than 12 months declined to 685 in September 2015, they accounted for 35% of all claimants.

The long term JSA unemployment rate in the Borough (0.7% of the 16-64 population) is much higher than both England (0.4%) and the East of England (0.3%).

Females represented 35% of long-term claimants in September 2015, compared to 22% in May 2008.


Broader Measures of Unemployment

A broader measure of unemployment in the Borough is provided by ONS modelled estimates which combine the results of the Annual Population Survey with the Claimant Count data. 

On this measure, there was an average of 5,200 people looking for work in July 2014 – June 2015 (6.1% of the economically active population aged 16+), slightly above the national average (5.6%).


Out-of-Work Benefits

Claimant count unemployment, however, does not measure the full level and impact of worklessness.  A more representative measure is the number of people of working age (16-64) who are claiming out-of-work benefits. 

Out-of-Work Benefits data is taken from the ONS Working Age Client Group dataset. It counts the number of people of working age who are claiming one or more Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits, and is often used as an indicator of worklessness.  It includes 4 types of benefits:

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Employment Support Allowance (ESA) & Incapacity Benefit
  • Lone Parents
  • Other Income Related Benefits


In May 2015 there were 8,620 claimants in Bedford Borough or 8.4% of the 16-64 population, compared to 9.1% in England and 7.3% in the East of England.

The largest group of claimants (60%) were receiving Employment Support Allowance or Incapacity Benefit, followed by Jobseeker’s Allowance (24%).  Lone Parents accounted for approximately 13% of claimants, with 3% claiming Other Benefits.5

At ward level, 5 wards (Castle, Cauldwell, Goldington, Harpur, and Kingsbrook) had rates over 12%:

Out-of-Work Benefits Claimants by Ward, May 2015

Out of Work benefits by Ward May 2015
Source: Out-of-Work Benefits Claimants, DWP via NOMIS, accessed November 2015.  Ward calculations by the Community Intelligence Team, Bedford Borough Council. 


4The Claimant Count is the number of people who are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.  This is a very restricted measure of unemployment, since many people who both want to work and are available for work do not qualify for the benefit, and it under-estimates the true level of unemployment. 

Nevertheless, the Claimant Count is a very useful labour market indicator because it is based on actual claimants and has no sampling error, and therefore provides valuable data on numbers, age, gender and duration of unemployment.  It is also available at a variety of geographies, including national, regional, local authority, wards and Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) – and is the only source of unemployment data for wards and LSOAs.

A further advantage of Claimant Count data is that it is current, whereas broader (International Labour Organisation) based estimates of unemployment and out of work benefits data are both published with a considerable time lag.


5It should be noted that DWP classifies each claimant by the highest level of benefit claimed on a benefits hierarchy. As a result, for example, the number of lone parents may be higher than indicated since some will also be claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and will be recorded only under that benefit.


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