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Unemployment curve is ‘flattening’ after big rise

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THE UNEMPLOYMENT curve is flattening after a ‘significant’ rise sparked by the Covid-19 crisis, the chief executive of the States has said.

States Chief Executive Paul Whitfield. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28258215)

Paul Whitfield said a ‘very steep rise’ in household unemployment benefit claims was seen initially week-on-week, but early government business support measures that had the ‘absolute objective of keeping employees and employers in business’ had been kicking in.

The States has so far, though, not provided any actual figures of what the crisis has done to the unemployment rate.

‘The whole emphasis is keeping business there.

‘It is interesting, as we move through phase two, we started to see that unemployment curve start to flatten out,’ said Mr Whitfield.

‘In the last week, for the first time through the household information on unemployment benefit claim is going down or a reduction on what is being claimed.’

With business support and easing of lockdown restrictions, he added: ‘The control mechanisms to support the community are starting to take effect.’

It was, however, important to continue the recovery work after a ‘significant’ rise in unemployment and flattening of that curve. Further improvements to the application process for business support were also coming, said Mr Whitfield, with millions of pounds already paid out.

The system had been built from scratch with capacity exponentially increasing from initially applications via email to 40 handlers working remotely on spreadsheets. More than 2,700 applications had been processed and paid for, he said, with 1,700 going through to final payment with more than £12.3m. of benefits paid.

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But the States had not stayed still and had been working with its strategic digital partner to improve the system.

‘We’ve been building a digitalised system which is now completed.

‘We’re pressure testing the system.

‘We’ll have to manualise the input because of the amount of difference in the data that we’ve got.

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‘But I would suggest that within a couple of weeks we’ll have an easy-to-access digitalised system that will importantly give us a dashboard information exactly on where we are.’

Mr Whitfield added: ‘So as to where we are now. Is it perfect? Most definitely no. Have we been building and working on a solution? Yes, we have. And have we been made paying significant payments? Yes.’

Some applications were also highly complex and vastly different. Highlighting the self-employed sector, he said: ‘It’s such a variant from cottage industry at home through to the self-employed plumber through to specialist consultancy working remotely.

‘Actually the business cases and looking at trading accounts, trading history, bank accounts, we’ve still got to execute a modicum of diligence. But the objective as always is to support business first, check second.’

n The issue of reopening schools is being worked on – but is one of the ‘most difficult aspects’ to the Covid-19 situation because of the challenge of social distancing for young children.

Mr Whitfield said announcements were hoped to be made by the end of this week.

‘It’s one of the most difficult aspects because, as you can imagine, it’s one thing for 17-year-olds, but actual social distancing for seven-year-olds and keeping their hands clean is very difficult.

‘It is being worked on at depth, and we’re hoping announcements will be made by the end of this week,’ he said.

Will Green

By Will Green
Business Editor

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