Jobless Britain is what should scare the coalition – not rioting students

With 2.6 people on benefits for every job vacancy, Cameron will soon see what Broken Britain looks l

David Cameron came to power promising to mend what he described as "broken Britain". But if Britain ever were to be broken, Cameron is starting to show us what it would look like. The student protests and rioting against the tripling of tuition fees have severely undermined the credibility of the Liberal Democrats, but should also concern the Conservatives.

A government that cannot control the streets of London is in trouble. But the vote was won, and the government, though perhaps not the Lib Dems, will get over it. What should really concern the government is that "jobless Britain" is already a reality before the cuts start to bite. The public backlash to that will make the student protests look like a picnic.

Several weeks ago, Office for National Statistics data showed that nationally there are already 2.6 claimants on average for every job vacancy. Taking data from more than 230 areas of Britain, they found that there are 1,359,282 unemployed claimants in Britain seeking a total of 521,729 job vacancies.

However, while historically poorer areas of Britain such as Scotland and the north-east are far above the average, Scotland having 3.9 claimants for each vacancy and the north-east 3.2, it is London that tops the list at 4.1 unemployed workers to every job vacancy. Meanwhile, Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales have 2.7 unemployed workers per vacancy. The south-east, east of England, East Midlands and south-west are below the national average.

But what is most concerning is the pattern of mass regional unemployment. For example, in four areas of Scotland – Campbeltown, Newton Stewart and Wigtown, Wick, and Gairloch and Ullapool – there are more than ten jobless people chasing each job. There are a further 14 areas, nine of which are in Scotland or Wales, where there are at least seven unemployed workers for each job.

The darling bloods of May

This situation is likely to get worse as the coalition presses ahead with its plans to sack 100,000 public-sector workers in 2011. With the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicting an increase in unemployment of at least 1 per cent in 2011, there is a grave risk that this contagion of areas with mass unemployment levels will spread across the rest of Britain, particular in those with a high proportion of public-sector workers.

Moreover, the data reveals that, before the cuts start in earnest, there is already an unemployment crisis in Britain, at a time when there is little evidence that the private sector will be able to create jobs. Indeed, there are only five areas of Britain where there are more job vacancies than unemployment claimants – Penrith and Appleby, Harrogate and Ripon, Andover, Kendal and Rugby.

The reality is that it is the economy, not tuition fees, which will make or break this government. Nick Clegg and his party have been wounded, perhaps mortally, by their tuition fee betrayal. They are now languishing at between 5 and 10 per cent in the polls, and their first dose of punishment will probably be meted out at the local elections in May.

But now attention and the story will shift to Cameron and Osborne. Were the student protests an aberration from normality, or merely the first act in a long drama of public unrest and anger? Is David Cameron a "compassionate conservative", or one hell-bent on taking Britain back to the divided nation of strikes, mass unemployment, private affluence and public squalor that it was in the 1980s? We will soon find out.

The IMF, the OECD and the OBR have all predicted sluggish growth and higher unemployment in 2011 and 2012. If the private sector cannot fill the gap left by public-sector job cuts, then, despite his undoubted class as a politician, and his assured and self-confident start as Prime Minister, David Cameron will see what "broken Britain" really looks like. If that happens, he will find himself, like John Major 15 years ago, "in office but not in power".

Ben Fox is chairman of GMB Brussels and political adviser to the Socialist vice-president of economic and monetary affairs.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.