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Birmingham props up unemployment league of shame with fifth of adults out of work

Birmingham props up unemployment league of shame with fifth of adults out of work

🕔03.Sep 2013

It seems unlikely that unemployment will be a topic that dominates the 2015 General Election in the way that contests in the 1970s and 1980s were gripped by vicious debate about ever-lengthening dole queues.

Although some 2.5 million people in the UK are without work, the jobs issue appears to have been displaced in the public psyche by more pressing concerns over immigration, the future of welfare benefits, law and order and our place in Europe.

Tellingly, opinion polls suggest that a majority of voters prefer the coalition government’s economic policy to that of the Labour opposition.

Here  in Birmingham the good news, if it can be so described, is that unemployment crept down over the summer.

There are now 47,049 people claiming Jobseekers’ allowance, a fall of 539 between June and July.

That makes the city’s unemployment rate 10.3 per cent, which is more than twice the UK average of 4.5 per cent and way higher than the West Midlands average of 5.7 per cent.

A slight decrease in the number of people without work over the past year is at the margins leaving Birmingham, as it has been for a very long time, out on its own as the UK’s unemployment hot spot. The statistics are as endlessly depressing as they are familiar:

-Birmingham has the highest unemployment rate of any major UK city.

-The number of long-term claimants, 12 months or more, has risen to 16,740.

-The number of youth claimants, 18-24, has risen to 11,790.

Birmingham’s worklessness rate, a broader analysis of unemployment which includes people who do not work because they are on incapacity benefit, stands at 17.2 per cent compared to 11.3 per cent for England and 13.7 per cent for the West Midlands.

Shockingly, almost a fifth of the working age population in Birmingham is without work.

All of this would be bad enough, but by drilling down into individual wards the true nature of the city’s unemployment problem and sharp differences between wealthier and poorer areas reveals a pattern that has been apparent for decades.

-Unemployment in the Ladywood constituency is 21 per cent, 14 per cent in Hodge Hill and 11.6 per cent in Erdington. In Sutton Coldfield, the figure is 3.5 per cent.

-On a council ward basis, unemployment is 30.1 per cent in Aston, 27.9 per cent in Washwood Heath and 26.5 per cent in Lozells and East Handsworth. In the four Sutton wards, the rate ranges from 2.3 per cent to 3.6 per cent.

It is simplistic to suggest that unemployment is artificially high solely as a result of the Birmingham’s BME population, with many immigrants finding it difficult to secure jobs because they do not have English as a first language, although this surely must be a factor.

The worst unemployment is to be found among Asian and African-Caribbean communities – Aston, Washwood Heath and Nechells – but there are plenty of white working class areas where the problem is also severe. Stockland Green has unemployment of 14.2 per cent, Shard End and Kingstanding  are each at 14.1 per cent, Tyburn 13.8 per cent and South Yardley 11.6 per cent.

At city council level, efforts are underway to create economic zones promoting employment in advanced manufacturing, environmental enterprises, life sciences, IT, electronics and communications. The zones will, according to the council, produce 50,000 new jobs, although the city’s well documented skills deficit makes it difficult to judge just how many of these will go to applicants from wards with the highest unemployment.

Much may depend on the council’s efforts with the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP to convince the Government to devolve economic development powers and budgets. Research papers produced by GBSLEP, if they are taken at face value, suggest that the Greater Birmingham area could be awash with jobs over the next decade or so.

Under its Going for Growth strategy, GBSLEP promises to create upwards of 100,000 new jobs by 2025, although not all of these will be in Birmingham. GBSLEP’s efforts chiefly focus on the M42 Gateway, pushing employment opportunities at an expanded Birmingham Airport and on sites close to the planned HS2 high speed rail interchange.

Forecasts take on a life of their own as soon as the M42 and Birmingham Airport are mentioned, with the West Midlands Economic Forum claiming in its Stimulating Revival paper that an enlarged airport could lead to 243,000 additional jobs in the catchment area.

And according to GBSLEP, an Enterprise Belt taking in the M42 Gateway and parts of South Staffordshire and North Warwickshire could generate 96,000 jobs.

In Birmingham, an HS2 terminus at Curzon Street should produce about 10,000 new jobs and 22,000 jobs in the West Midlands, according to the LEP.

Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore is focusing on tackling unemployment among younger adults and has established a Youth Unemployment Commission supported by a £2 million Jobs Fund. This is backed up with a Birmingham Youth Employment Partnership to “grow a multi-agency response to youth unemployment with a call to arms for Birmingham employers to create jobs for young people”.

A £3 million investment from the European Regional Development Fund will support small businesses and create jobs in Digbeth, the Jewellery Quarter, East Birmingham and Tyseley.

But the pace of progress is painfully slow. Unemployment in Birmingham fell by a miserly 0.7 per cent between July 2012 and July 2013.

The council points to its efforts to create employment through granting planning permission for various developments, but most of the new jobs are either unskilled or not particularly well paid. Examples include 203 jobs at Tesco in Yardley and Spring Hill and 55 jobs at various Morrison’s stores.

Targeted recruitment campaigns make sure jobs that do become available are promoted in areas of high unemployment, with job seekers helped to apply. In this way 137 vacancies at the city’s highways partner, Amey, and 198 jobs at IT partners Service Birmingham were filled.

Some 306 jobs were created during construction of the new Library of Birmingham, and 325 during refurbishment of New Street Station. A list of future recruitment campaigns based on planning applications currently passing through the system envisages scores of retail sector jobs at Sainsbury’s, Asda, John Lewis, Premier Inn, Beefeater, Wetherspoons and Costa Coffee.

There are, of course, skilled and better paid jobs available. Almost 16,000 vacancies were advertised in the Birmingham travel to work area in July, according to the city council.

Demand is highest for IT business analysts, systems designers and programmers and software development professionals. More than half of the vacancies carry salary bands ranging from £20,000 to £50,000.

Whether many, or any, of these will be filled by Jobseeker claimants from the parts of Birmingham where unemployment approaches 30 per cent remains a matter of conjecture.

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