Economic inactivity in Northern Ireland

Economic inactivity describes people aged 16–64 years who are not in formal employment or actively seeking employment. In Northern Ireland, in the first quarter of 2024, there were 314,100 people who were economically inactive, making up 26.7% of the working age population.

Over the last 30 years, there has been a general downward trend in economic inactivity in the UK and Northern Ireland. However, economic inactivity in NI has remained amongst the highest of all UK regions.

The biggest category of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland in Q4 2023 is sickness or disability, with 11.9% of the working age population inactive for this reason. There has been an upward trend in this category beginning around 2013, which appears to have accelerated since 2020.

This report looks at what inactivity means, why it matters, what the data for Northern Ireland tell us, and considers how policies might respond.

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