By Tom Moseley, Parliamentary Correspondent
Ministers have admitted the South West is lagging behind other regions as they announced an unexpected rise in unemployment.
New figures showed that almost 450 more people were on jobless benefits in Bristol last month than in June. Across the wider greater Bristol area, the total went up from 19,604 to 20,429.
Commenting on the statistics, employment minister Chris Grayling told the Evening Post: “The South West is out of kilter with the rest of the country.
“This underlines the need to grow the private sector across the South West. We recognise that it does not have a strong enough private sector.”
Across the South West, total employment was down by 4,000 on the previous quarter, and by 18,000 on this time last year.
Aside from job seeker’s allowance, almost 233,000 people were on other benefits.
Across the country, the jobless rate stood at 2.49 million, or 7.9 per cent, between April and June, after the total number of unemployed increased by 38,000.
Mr Grayling admitted he was disappointed by the figures but said: “There will be ups and downs in all this.
“We have always said the recovery will be choppy.”
The increase in unemployment benefit claimants was the largest since May 2009 and the first since January.
Economists had expected a fall of around 10,000.
Within the figures, the number of unemployed women hit levels not seen in more than 23 years, while youth unemployment – covering the ages of 16 to 24 – moved closer to the politically-sensitive one million marker at 949,000, or 20.2 per cent.
Youth unemployment rose by 0.2 per cent from the three months to March.
Labour blamed government policy for the rise.
Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy, a shadow treasury minister, said: “The rise in unemployment raises real fears that the government’s wrong-headed approach to the economy is choking off the recovery.”
She said she welcomed Bristol’s enterprise zone, which brings low business rates and relaxed planning laws, but said the zones would not create as many jobs as had been lost in yesterday’s figures.
Mr Grayling also appeared to back calls for those who took part in riots, including those which hit Bristol over the course of two nights last week, to lose their benefits.
He said: “People are certainly expecting action to be taken, and we are currently looking at different options.
“I am not in a position currently to say exactly what we are going to do, because it’s legally complicated.
“But there is a genuine desire to see those people involved in the riots face the consequences.”