The claimant count in Renfrewshire may not return to pre-pandemic levels for several years as people struggle to return to work because of mental health problems, experts from the region’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) have said.
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the number of people receiving unemployment benefits in the region has risen by a staggering 81 per cent with the figure standing at 7,285 as of last month, accounting for 6.3 per cent of the working-age population.
The number has remained fairly static since last autumn, with only a slight increase seen since the turn of the year.
And Dan Lockyer, from Renfrewshire’s CAB, has suggested the future may look bleak for a while yet, as he admitted he doesn’t expect employment levels to return to normal anytime soon despite restrictions on businesses starting to lift.
The advice services manager said the number of people who have contracted mental health issues due to the pandemic is a major cause for concern.
“Judging by the number of enquiries we are getting about employment, it does not seem likely the claimant count in Renfrewshire will return to pre-pandemic levels for years,” said Mr Lockyer.
“I certainly don’t expect it to return to normal within the next year or two. Based on the numbers of people we are seeing with ill health and anxiety, I would anticipate it taking longer than that.
“The number of jobs that are available, whether people feel they can go back to work, and people’s mental health are all going to be factors in how things change and much of it may depend on how employers approach people’s return to work.
“We expect there will be a portion of people who do not feel they can return to the workplace. We are seeing people whose health has been affected by the pandemic and we just don’t know how long the hangover from this will be.”
However, Mr Lockyer said there are a number of reasons why it is difficult to tell exactly how long it may take Renfrewshire to economically recover from the crisis.
With 12,500 people in the area still furloughed from their jobs through the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – 13 per cent of the working population – there is concern about what may happen to their employment and earnings once that comes to an end in September.
Launched in March 2020, the scheme pays people unable to work due to the pandemic 80 per cent of their salary.
The initiative was initially due to come to an end in October but has since been extended twice, with some employees coming on and off furlough during that time.
Between October and February, the number of people furloughed in Renfrewshire rocketed by more than 60 per cent.
Mr Lockyer said while he was optimistic the claimant count would not worsen as businesses reopen, it was still possible.
He added: “We share the same concerns as everyone else that when furlough comes to an end, I think many employers may not be financially viable.
“Hopefully as places open up the claimant count won’t go up because of people returning to jobs. It might not come down very quickly but hopefully, it won’t rise.
“But there is potential that, for example, if this period [of restrictions lifting] doesn’t go as we hope and there’s a third wave and people can’t go back to work, the claimant count could rise even further.”