By Colin Crooks
The warnings have been there for anyone to see. Last December the Yorkshire Post screamed out “One-third of Bradfordhomes hit by lifetime of no work” it went to explain, “The latest figures for 24 constituencies across the region show that in Bradford West almost one-third of households contain someone who has not worked.” Later the BBC told us “The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in the Bradford West constituency has risen almost 33% to 4,926 over the last year”
While levels of deprivation have been climbing across the country, Bradford’s has been climbing fastest. In less than 3 years, Bradford has slipped 6 places to 26th most deprived authority in England Now more than 44% of its population live (or 222,000) in its poorest areas 16000 more people than in 2007.
When nearly a quarter of a million people live in very deprived areas it will come as no surprise to see that Bradford ranks 5th and 6th in terms of lowest income and lowest levels of employment inEngland.
Yet, in contrast,Bradfordhas nearly 30,000 people who live in the least deprived areas of the country. In fact, Bradford has the widest gulf between rich and poor inEngland.
When such levels of entrenched and indeed growing deprivation live cheek by jowl with wealth and prosperity it can hardly be surprising that people want to see things change and want to hear fresh ideas aimed at helping them.
The government continues to pursue what I call a supply side policy on employment. It insists that its Work Programme will give unemployed people the skills and motivation they need to get a job. This has been the mantra of every government for decades now – essentially, they seem to be saying that if the unemployed pick themselves up and get new skills they will walk into a job. Really?
Let us face the facts. I accept that many unemployed people have very low skill levels. But, assuming we could help them all reskill, what jobs will they do? In the autumn, Bradfordhad 2700 registered job vacancies. There were 17,000 registered unemployed. Add to them the number of people who want to work but can’t register and those who want full-time rather than part-time work, to allow them to make ends meet, and you get at least 2.5 times that figure. So, in reality more than 40,000 people are chasing those 2700 vacancies. No wonder we regularly hear stories of 50 or even a 100 people applying for each job vacancy!
We need a radical new approach and we need one quickly. We need to create jobs that people with low skills can do. Once they have a job we can work with them to build their skills. As social entrepreneur, I can see hundreds of opportunities to create real jobs that provide real services for local people. Jobs in maintenance, social care, education, health and even in entertainment. As I have researched my new book – coming out in the summer – it has become obvious that the main barrier to creating such jobs is not the energy of the local people or their lack of skills. It is not even money – it is something far more insidious.
At the heart of the problem of entrenched unemployment in specific areas is the obsession with “efficiency” – of getting the lowest price at the least risk. The result is that large, highly capitalised firms get the contracts to deliver local services that do not employ local people. The money is clearly there as government (local and national) spend millions in areas such as Bradford West. The challenge is to help local people find better ways of spending it, which benefits them.
Until we can offer something more tangible to the millions of workless people be prepared for more electoral turbulence.