SCOTLAND’s jobless total is continuing to fall, with official figures showing the dole queue shrank by 4,000 between November and January.
The figures, which included Scotland’s biggest drop in youth unemployment in 20 years, came as the UK suffered its first rise in unemployment in a year. However, the number of women out of work in Scotland rose by 8,000 in the three months to January, or 86 a day.
There are now 200,000 Scots out of work, yesterday’s figures revealed. Scotland now has a jobless rate of 7.4 per cent, which is below the average UK rate of 7.8 per cent.
In the three months to January, UK unemployment jumped 7,000 to 2.52 million.
Finance secretary John Swinney said: “These figures show a welcome improvement in the labour market in Scotland. Our headline unemployment rate is now at its lowest level for over three years.
“Scotland now has a lower headline unemployment rate and higher youth employment rate than the UK as a whole.
“The targeted action we have taken on youth unemployment, with investment in apprenticeships, full-time college courses and ‘Opportunities for All’ appears to be delivering real results.”
Youth unemployment has fallen by 7.7 per cent over the past year – the largest decrease since 1992. The Scottish jobless rate of 17 per cent for 16-24-year-olds is lower than the 20.6 per cent seen across the UK.
Mr Swinney added: “With the powers of independence, we would have the economic levers and the scope to do even more with Scotland’s interests, making sure we no longer have to fund the failures of a UK government.”
The 200,000 figure for people on the dole in Scotland is double the level it was before the financial crisis struck five years ago. Commentators are predicting that unemployment will go up again later this year and the figures also showed a small increase in the number of Scots out of work and claiming jobseekers’ allowance.
This rose by 300 from January’s total to stand at 137,700 in February – although this total is 5,200 lower than the same time last year.
Labour pointed out that the fall in unemployment was all down to men getting jobs – with the number of women out of work continuing to grow.
Labour finance spokesman Ken Macintosh said: “Female unemployment is heading in the wrong direction, a trend compounded by the SNP’s decision to cut college places for adults, which disproportionately affects women trying to get back into work.”
Labour called for a “specific focus” on getting women into work. “Child-care in Scotland, where it is available at all, ranks amongst the most expensive in Europe and if the SNP would only deliver on its election promises, that would be a positive start,” Mr Macintosh added.
The number of women out of work has jumped by 8,000 in the three months to January, to 89,000, with a 1,000 fall in the number of women in work.
The female unemployment rate is up 0.5 per cent on last quarter to 7 per cent. More Scots are also being hit by the hidden scourge of “under-employment”, which sees them forced to take on part-time jobs or work fewer hours, although they are not part of official jobless statistics.
The number of working Scots has gone up by 19,000 and now stands at 2,480,000. The employment rate north of the Border is 71.1 per cent, below the UK average of 71.5 per cent.
Meanwhile, Tory finance spokesman Gavin Brown warned SNP plans for Scotland-only taxes will hammer businesses and could undermine future growth. “That won’t help the economy, and it won’t help create jobs for the thousands of people across Scotland who are out of work,” he said.
The Tories have urged the SNP to ditch a Scotland-only levy on big retailers dubbed the “supermarket tax”, as well as an increase in empty properties tax.