Unemployment rate soars across Highlands and Islands, report finds

The new 20-page-report by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise agency.

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Unemployment has increased across the Highlands and Islands faster than the rest of Scotland, according to new research.

Analysis by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) showed that across the region a total of 16,175 people were unemployed in July – nearly double that of July 2019.

The region’s unemployment rate was at 5.7 per cent compared to 2.4 per cent in 2019.

Unemployment is thought to be running at its highest in Argyll and the Islands (7.2 per cent) and Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross (7.3 per cent).

Youth unemployment region-wide also rose from 9.3 to 9.9 per cent, the report found.

The figures are contained in a new 20-page report looking at the impact of Covid on the Highlands and Islands.

It found Argyll and Bute also has the highest rate of ‘jobs at risk’ in the whole of Scotland due to larger numbers of people being employed in vulnerable sectors.

These include accommodation, food and retail which are sectors ‘most exposed’ to the economic effects of the coronavirus.

As a result, the Highlands and Islands will suffer a ‘disproportionate impact’ compared to other parts of the country, the report concluded.

GDP in 2020 is forecast to fall between £1.5bn and £2.6bn with a warning that ‘full recovery’ is unlikely until 2023.

Tourism to the Highlands and Islands usually brings in £1.5 billion a year and 14.4 million day visitors with more than 2.6 million overnight visitors.

Brexit will also impact five of the six local authority areas in the Highlands and
Islands, the report found.

This is due to sectors being more dependent on migrant workers, EU grants and with more fragile populations, said the report.

Maree Todd, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said the situation showed unemployment is a problem for the area and those in work but on low incomes are in a vulnerable financial situation, particularly if they have to self isolate when showing Covid symptoms.

The Scottish Government has made a new £500 grant available to support people on low incomes who are having to self isolate. Applications open on Monday October 12 and will be administered by local councils.

Ms Todd said the grant would ‘make a difference to people’ across the region.

It will be targeted at those who receive Universal Credit or legacy benefits, with some discretion to be made to others in financial hardship, she said.

‘We know the prevalence of COVID-19 is rising throughout the Highlands and Islands which means more and more people will be asked to self-isolate – a necessary step in suppressing the virus.

‘The new Self-Isolation Support Grant will aid compliance, help slow the spread of the virus and keep our communities safe.’