As has been reported in the media over the past couple of years, unemployment and Live Register recipients have been increasing rapidly as the recession deepens.  To date though we have little detailed knowledge of their geography which prompted us to try and map Live Register data at the Social Welfare Office scale.

Unemployment is measured by the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) which provides details on both the number of unemployed people and the unemployment rate at national and regional levels. According to the QNHS the number of unemployed people in Q3 ’09 was at a staggering 279,800, up from 102,600 in Q3 2006 (an increase of 173%). According to the CSO the QNHS classifies unemployed people as “those who, in the week before the survey, were without work or were available for work within the next two weeks, and had taken specific steps, in the preceeding four weeks, to find work”. Based on this classification the overall national unemployment rate has increased from 4.7% in Q3 ’06 to 12.7% in Q3 ’09. The QNHS also provides details at the NUTS 111 regional level. This gives a useful insight into the broad spatial trends across the country but the survey is not designed to allow an analysis at a sub-regional spatial scale (see Figure 1a and 1b).

Figure 1A and B: QNHS Unemployment Numbers and Percentage Change

Figure 1A and B: QNHS Unemployment numbers and percentage growth

An alternative method of analysing the spatial patterns of unemployment is to use the unadjusted Live Register at Social Welfare Office level. The Live Register is compiled from returns made by each local welfare office to the Department of Social and Family Affairs and passed onto the Central Statistics Office. It comprises of persons under-65 years of age in the following classes:

  • All Claimants for Jobseekers Benefit (JB) excluding systematic short-time workers
  • Applicants for Jobseekers Allowance (JA) excluding smallholders/farm assists and other self-employed persons
  • Other registrants including applicants for credited Social Welfare contributions but excluding those directly involved in an industrial dispute.

The Live Register is not specifically designed to measure unemployment as it includes part-time (those who work up to three days a week), seasonal and casual workers entitled to Jobseekers Allowance or Jobseekers Benefit.  It does, however, allow an analysis of employment trends at both a county level and also at social welfare office level.  142 Social Welfare Offices are listed on the CSO website, data is however not available for all offices on a continuous time series basis as some have been closed for a number of years while others have been replaced by new offices. From September 2006 the number of offices has remained relatively stable with the exception for the Carrigaline Office which opened in Nov ’06 and the North Cumberland Street Office which was replaced by the Swords Office and King’s Inn Street in August ’09 – this data is not included in our analysis.  For the purposes of this analysis we will use 122 Social Welfare Offices open since September 2006.

In September 2006 there were 151,440 signing on the Live Register, this figure increased to a total of 436,936 in January 2010 (latest data available) representing a percentage increase of +188%.  The Live Register figures fluctuated marginally between our starting point (M09, 2006) and the end of 2007 with the percentage increase at 6.7% in November 2007. Figures steadily began to increase at this point and hit a peak of +187% in August 2009. Figures reduced slightly during the last months of 2009 but increased to hit a new high in January 2010 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Unadjusted Live Register Growth: 09 '06 to 01 '10

The scale of this increasing trend varied across the country with some areas experiencing much higher percentage increases in job losses than others. Figure 3a below details the number of recipients per Social Welfare Office in September 2006 and Figure 3b highlights the percentage increase in each office to January 2010. The vast majority of offices witnessed an increase of greater than 100% with many in excess of 300% (these patterns are clearly shown in the animation below).

Figure 3A: Live Register recipients at Social Welfare Office 09 '06 (Offices are sorted from left to right by NUTS 111 Region (Border, Midlands, West, Dublin, Mid-East, Mid-West, South-East and South-West) and by number of recipients per office in 09 ‘2006. The animation below will provide more detail on the changing patterns.)

Figure 3B. Live Register Recipients by Social Welfare Office: % Change 09 '06 to 01 '10

In order to visualise the trends from our base date we have mapped Live Register growth at approximate Social Welfare Office catchments (see animation). At present the areas served by Social Welfare Offices do not correspond to specific geographic boundaries and registrants at a given local office do not necessarily reside within a precisely delineated area (e.g those signing at the Ballyfermot office do not necessarily have to live within the Ballyfermot area but may be from surrounding areas such as Palmerstown and Ronanstown that might be nearer to another office).  We have therefore created catchments for each office based on the assumption that a recipient will register at the nearest office to their residence.  The areas then are approximate catchments, wherein the vast majority of people live within the designated area, but a relatively small number of claimants might live beyond its bounds.

For a higher resolution animation please visit the NIRSA site (click here).

(a very pale area represents a decrease in Live Register claimants below the Q3 2006 rate, yellow 0-10% increase, pale brown 10-25% increase, light brown 25-50%, mid-brown 50-100% increase, dark brown 100-150% increase, red 150-200% increase, purple 200-250% increase and turquoise 250%+ increase).

What the animated map shows is that Live Register recipients fluctuated up and down for most of 2006, but from the start of 2007 started to increase rapidly, first in the south west before spreading nationally.  From the beginning of 2008 the first areas reached a 150% increase from the Q3 2006 figures, quickly followed by increases of 250% above the Q3 2006 figures in the south west, and increases of 200 to 250% in the commuter belts around the cities. By the end of 2009, most of the country was above the +150% rate with only a few peripheral areas such as parts of Waterford and the Atlantic fringe under that rate. As the Live Register figures continue to increase, those areas in red are likely to shift to purple and turquoise.  For our post on the microgeographies of the Live Register click here.

Justin Gleeson, Rob Kitchin, Matthias Borscheid

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