Saturday, July 18, 2009

This Ain't Middle England

My late mother used to work at Bootle Job Centre. She'd remark ruefully that the town would always be an unemployment blackspot because it was over-reliant on the declining port & the low skills base of many of those looking for work.
She made that observation in the 80s, when the economic fall-out exponentially increased the underclass. Fast forward two decades & the town's unemployment problem is, it would appear, no longer the sole concern of government. In true New Labour style, private companies are now being encouraged to act not just as potential employers to the jobless, but also as dispensers of advice & even counselling ( ).
David Teather's piece describes the scene at a local mission hall in Litherland as long-term unemployed local people attend what amounts to part presentation, part motivational address delivered by a Tesco rep, ahead of the opening of the firm's new store in the neighbourhood.
The rep quickly warms to her task, extolling the attractions of the vacancies on offer & refers to previous applicants in other areas who felt they had no or little chance of regular employment again, only to find that they had skills & attributes employers wanted. There is, however, a shaft of bleak reality when she recounts one particular tale. Teather observes:
"Then she tells a story about a man who had worked at the same factory since he was 15 and was made redundant in his 50s. During a presentation, he had stood on stage and admitted that the reason he had been unemployed for the past few years was because he could barely read or write. [She] speaks about his courage and determination and says that, six months after joining the retailer, he was made a team leader. She later says that when she mentions numeracy and literacy in a room of candidates, she can feel people shifting uncomfortably."
This week's unemployment figures could only begin to tell the tale of those in hitherto high employment areas now painfully adjusting to £60.50 a week on Job Seeker's Allowance ( ).
For areas like Bootle, however, the "boom" years were conspicuous by their absence; no silicon or IT start-ups along the Dock Road, just boarded-up pubs, dereliction on an industrial scale & a raft of social problems largely caused by the town's economic decline. According to the figures, Bootle's unemployment rate has increased by nearly 60% since this time last year.
This recession is just as sharp in its severity as that of the early 80s. Only difference is that it is a New Labour government which blithely presides over its fall-out.

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