A waste of young lives

THERE is a fine line between highlighting the problems in your area and making such a problem worse by drawing wider attention of the problem to a broader audience.

The issue of youth unemployment is a case in point. I want to highlight the fact that Hartlepool has one of the highest levels of unemployment for young people anywhere in the country, and that something has to be done about it.

I am determined to challenge the Government, both in Parliament and in the media, that the economy policy it is pursuing is not helping the town, particularly in terms of getting young people into work.

At the same time, I don’t want to give the impression that the town is a lost cause, because I firmly believe that it isn’t.

Hartlepool educates our children and young people to a higher standard than ever before, and young people have fantastic learning opportunities in a wide range of further education and sixth form colleges.

We have huge potential in a diverse spectrum of manufacturing and industrial opportunities: we in the UK have to exploit our manufacturing expertise and capability much more than we have done in the last few years, and this is something I will return to in next week’s column.

This town could have a bright and prosperous future, centred on utilising modern manufacturing, but only if, as in other countries, the Government supports industry.

A journalist from the Sunday People newspaper spent some time with me last week to discuss youth unemployment.

This was on the back of figures being published which showed that the number of young people unemployed had broken through the one million barrier for the first time ever in this country’s history.

Hartlepool is one of the worst areas for youth unemployment, with nearly one in five young people not able to find a job. I have said before that this issue is the biggest social and economic problem facing the town and that we in Hartlepool will pay the price for decades to come, in respect of lower wages and higher benefit bills if it is not dealt with swiftly.

You can bandy figures like one million or one in five all you like, but showing the human face of youth unemployment can explain the appalling waste of talent and potential far better than any statistic.

That is what the Sunday People has done with its article on youth unemployment in Hartlepool, by showing how it has impacted upon a young football team.

Woodcutter FC has lads playing for it between the ages of 17 and 26. It is managed by Jimmy Gillies. Every single lad who plays for the team is on the dole. The newspaper showed a picture of the team and highlighted each player’s story.

Michael Angus, aged 19, is trained as a plumber but has been unable to find work for seven months. Paul Robson is 18 and believes that he will have to move away from Hartlepool in order to find work. Michael Stead, aged 20 is a self-employed fitter but hasn’t seen any work for weeks.

What was striking about the article is that it confirmed, if confirmation was needed, that most young people in Hartlepool do not want to stay on the dole, but are keen to work if the opportunities were available.

As Jimmy says in the article, most lads on the team are trained, have a trade and want to work, but are just wasting their skills and opportunities.

That is why, for the good of the lads who play for the Woodcutter, and countless other young people in Hartlepool, the Government must change course and provide some hope, support and opportunity for the unemployed youth of the town.