Hartlepool has the highest out-of-work benefit claimant rate in the country, according to the latest figures.
But DWP bosses say the picture is complicated by the advanced roll-out of Universal Credit across the town.
The latest Official Labour Market Statistics show there were 4,370 claimants in the town, a rate of 7.6% of the eligible working age population, and 1.7% more than second-placed Great Yarmouth.
But JobCentre Plus’ Diane Luke said Hartlepool had been one of the first areas in the country to go over to Universal Credit Full Service – which includes people who are in low-income work and would previously have been claiming Working Families Tax Credit – as well as those looking for a job.
“We rolled it out in 2016, so it has been more than a year now, but we still have areas in Durham and Tees Valley that won’t actually go over to Full Service until November,” she said.
Hartlepool MP Mike Hill said: “Clearly this is not an acceptable position to be in, despite the fact that the figures remain skewed by the reality that Universal Credit puts a wider range of people into the out of work category; including the disabled and chronically ill.
Clearly this is not an acceptable position to be in, despite the fact that the figures remain skewed by the reality that Universal Credit puts a wider range of people into the out of work categoryMike Hill MP
“There is also a growing trend of people migrating to Hartlepool because of low rents.
“Both these factors have impacted on the figures, but it is important to reflect also on the fact that we have had the biggest drop in youth unemployment from 17% to 2% and the council leader has just secured £7million from the Tees Valley Combined Authority to tackle long-term unemployment via the ‘New Routes to Work’ programme, which specifically targets those over 25 and needing the most help to join the labour market.
“Clearly lots more needs to be done, which is why I will be pressing the council to organise a task force to help further address the issue.”
Borough council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “The council recognises that long-term unemployment is a problem in Hartlepool and we are committed to taking action to tackle it.
“On the back of our considerable success in reducing youth unemployment, we are also addressing employment issues affecting older people through the Routes to Work project.
“In addition, we have also been notified that the Youth Employment Initiative, which specifically targets the 15-29 age group, is set to be extended.”