Last year was a record year for both the UK and Northern Ireland labour markets. Employment has never been higher and unemployment (for Northern Ireland) has never been lower. Given these labour market conditions one would assume that consumer confidence must be strong too? Not so. Previously having a job, or not having one, was a key determinant of whether a household or individual was in poverty. Over the last decade, however, a sustained period of below inflation wage growth and cuts to working-age welfare benefits has squeezed disposable incomes for those in work too.
UK PM Theresa May failed for the third time to get Parliament to ratify her Withdrawal Agreement. More indicative votes take place in the House of Commons today. The probability of cross party support for a customs union has increased, but it is still hard to see how the impasse is solved. The UK is now due to leave the EU on 12th April, but a longer extension of Article 50 looks likely.
Northern Ireland recruitment agencies may be capitalising on strong demand within a buoyant labour market, but , conversely, local car dealers continue to experience tough trading conditions with consumer demand for a new set of wheels remaining lacklustre. August saw some improvement, albeit marginal, with new car sales 1.5% higher than the same period last year. There were 3,701 new cars sold last month, some 54 higher than last August’s figure. However, the latter represented a five-year low so the latest improvement must be set within that context.