The number of people seeking work in Cumbria has risen by almost 200 in the past month, according to latest statistics.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 6,445 people claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance or received support through Universal Credit to seek work in the last month – 195 more than revised figures for February, which stood at 6,250.

It represents a fifth consecutive month of rises and follows a 415 increase in new claims made in February compared to the figures for January.

The rise in March means that 2.2 per cent of the county’s population is claiming support for being unemployed – a rise of 0.1 per cent from the previous month.

There were rises in five of Cumbria’s six districts, with Copeland recording a fall of 20 claims made, taking the total number to 1,290 and representing 3.1 per cent of its population.

Barrow and Carlisle saw the biggest rises of 80 – taking the totals to 1,115 (2.7 per cent) and 1,440 (2.2 per cent) respectively.

Allerdale and South Lakeland both saw a rise of 20 new claims – taking the totals to 1,710 (three per cent) and 515 (0.9 per cent) respectively. Eden saw a rise of five new claims, taking the total to 375 (1.2 per cent).

The continued rises are, in the main, due to the ongoing switch to the controversial Universal Credit system, which brings together several benefits including income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance and Working Tax Credit.

And while all of Cumbria’s Jobcentre Plus offices have moved in to the Universal Credit system, the full rollout is expected to take another four years.

The figures for Cumbria remain well below the national unemployment rate of 2.7 per cent.

The ONS said unemployment fell by 27,000 to 1.34 million in the three months to February, while the number of people in work remains at record levels, jumping by 179,000 to 32.7m.

Average weekly earnings, excluding bonuses, rose by 3.4 per cent – before adjusting for inflation.

Matthew Percival, head of employment at the Confederation of British Industry, said the figures showed the UK’s labour market was outperforming the rest of the economy.

However, he warned: “Although securing a Brexit extension means we have averted an economic crisis, politicians must now come together and avoid a no deal scenario or risk impacting the UK’s stellar labour market.”