THE news last week that Hartlepool has one of the highest levels of unemployment, with the town topping the league for youth unemployment, is devastating.
The problem of unemployment in Hartlepool is the single biggest social and economic factor facing this town.
Its consequences will affect Hartlepool families, their chances in life and their health for decades to come. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that, the longer people in Hartlepool stay on the dole, the less likely it is that they will get a job.
That is particularly true of youth unemployment and I worry that we in Hartlepool face a lost generation of the town’s youth if we don’t act now. If people don’t get a job, long term unemployment leads to higher rates of depression, more divorces, and more cases of alcoholism. If there is one single thing which contributes to a declining and depressingly low quality of life, it is not having a job.
We have, unfortunately, been here before. In the early 1960s, Hartlepool was one of the country’s unemployment blackspots. The BBC documentary, Waiting for Work, which was repeated and updated recently, highlighted the plight of men failing to find work and supporting their families. In 1963, in the local dole office, 40 men were chasing each job vacancy.
It got worse in the next 20 years as the shipyards, steelworks and heavy engineering firms started closing their doors. By 1981, an astonishing 20,000 jobs had been lost in Hartlepool as a result of that severe recession.
A community can’t recover from that sort of intense economic shock lightly and, in truth, and in common with many other former mining and heavy industrial areas, we have never truly recovered.
The town still bears the social and economic scars of the 1980s. Whereas before, in the 1950s and 1960s, many young men, even if they weren’t particularly keen on or good at school, could be assured of some sort of job certainty in the steelworks or in Richardson & Westgarth, by the 1980s that was no longer the case.
I believe strongly that the present Government’s economic policy is making Hartlepool’s difficult job situation much, much worse.
Public sector cuts lead inevitably to redundancies and the slashing of government expenditure is now beginning to come through in the dole queue. The cancellation of contracts like Building Schools for the Future and housebuilding programmes has meant that private sector firms are having to lay off workers because public sector work has now tailed off.
It doesn’t have to be like this. There is an alternative. Germany is fast becoming the only economic powerhouse in Europe, and its jobless figure is lower than it was at the start of the global financial crisis.
It has done this with some cutting of public spending, it is true, but with a greater emphasis on spending on infrastructure projects, thus making its economy more efficient and productive, as well as job subsidies.
As a result, Germany’s economy grew by three per cent last year and is expected to do the same this year. The British economy has bumped along with virtually no growth for the best part of nine months, and growth expectations are being slashed downwards on a weekly basis.
The Government can’t keep pushing relentlessly on with a deficit reduction agenda when all the evidence is showing that it’s not working.
I will keep making the case to Government ministers that help and assistance must be given to get Hartlepool working. We need a change of policy that emphasises job creation, economic growth and improved infrastructure. If we don’t, Hartlepool and its people won’t be able to fulfil their potential.