UK unempoyment widens North-South divide

FIVE months ago twenty-year-old Matt Wilkinson made a difficult and expensive decision.

He decided to exchange his comfortable life in the south, living with his parents and working for himself, for a two-bedroom flat 300 miles away in the North-East, where his girlfriend is studying.

Little did he know that the lack of job opportunities ‘up north’, would force him to re-consider.

Matt said: “I can’t believe how hard it actually is to find any work here.”

Job Centre

Although originally from Brighton, Matt grew up in the coastal town of Seaford and since September has been living in Newcastle, where more than 20 per cent of 16-24 year olds are not in education, employment or training.

More than 12,000 people joined the jobless ranks in the North-East during the three months up to October and Matt was very aware of this unemployment situation.

During the months prior to the move he began to email out his CV and frantically search for potential jobs in Newcastle and the surrounding areas.

He said: “I knew it would be hard and that I wouldn’t just walk into a job.

“I just didn’t expect to apply for so many jobs with such little response.”

Since starting his job hunt in the region, Matt has applied for around five to ten jobs every week, with only two interviews to date.

Unfortunately, his efforts were to no avail as he is now unemployed for the first time since the age of 16.

He has also joined the 12 per cent of people unemployed in the North-East, almost double the 6.1 per cent out of work in the South East.

Jobs in the north of England are being lost at four times the rate in the rest of the country, as around 98,000 jobs were lost in the North-East, North-West, Yorkshire and Humberside in 2011, according to IPPR North.

This hasn’t always been the case as the North-East was once a major industrial hotspot. However, the manufacturing status has deteriorated over the last 40 years with the decline of shipbuilding, steel, iron and coal mining.

While the South East was relatively untouched, Northern cities like Newcastle suffered most, and when new jobs in the service and finance sector did not appear where they were most needed, it gave way for the opening of a potentially dangerous ‘North-South divide‘.

Matt explained: “I’ve heard of the ‘North-South divide’ before but coming from the south, you don’t really think much of it.

“As soon as you have spent some time up here though, you can see massive differences.”

Due to consecutive years of government regeneration plans, particularly during Margaret Thatcher’s era, the North-East also has a heavy concentration of public sector workers, who were hit hard by last year’s spending cuts.

Experts said that George Osborne’s pledge that the private sector would make up for the jobs being slashed in the public sector had not happened.

Only 5,000 private sector jobs were created throughout the UK, while 67,000 public sector jobs disappeared in the three months to November.

Matt Wilkinson: unemployed for the first time.

Moving around is a norm in Matt’s life, as he attended two different  comprehensive schools  before being privately educated at Hurstpierpoint Collegein West Sussex, where he gained eight GCSE’s.

Matt has never struggled to find work, despite dropping out of college after only one month.He worked at a local Morrisons for a few months before joining a building company in February 2008, where he worked for one and half years.

It was during this time that he realised he needed to return to college to gain some more qualifications and decided to enrol on a two-year course at Plumpton College.

He studied for a National Diploma in Horticulture whilst juggling two part-time jobs, working for a landscaping company and a pond expert business, to gain some relevant experience.

Surprisingly, experience is the one thing that he seems to be missing.

Matt said: “I keep getting the same response from employers.

“They are all after experience but how much working experience can a 20-year-old have?”

The current youth unemployment situation in the UK is the highest since records began in 1992, with 1.04 million under 24’s out of work.

The number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds increased by 52,000 during the three months to November, or 22.3 per cent of that age group.

Matt believes that his age is a big turn-off for employers, especially when the overall unemployment rates are so high in this country.

“There is just too much competition with actual adults, especially in my field,” he said.

Data revealed by the Office for National Statistics  showed that overall unemployment rose by 118,000, to reach a 17-year high of 2.68 million.

Matt said: “I think there is that stereotype that young people go out and drink all the time, which ultimately puts employers off.

“I am not sure if I would get turned down based purely on my age, but I definitely think that I would be second choice behind someone older than me.

“I have actually been told by the Job Centre to take my date of birth off my CV.”

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Job Seekers Allowance logo

As of November, Matt has been receiving £96 in Jobseekers Allowance to help him towards the costs of rent, bills and petrol for his car.

Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is the benefit for people who are currently unemployed and actively looking for work or working fewer than 16 hours per week.

The number of claimants  increased by 1,200 to 1.6 million in December, the 10th consecutive monthly rise and the highest for a year.

To receive payments each week, Matt must keep a diary of the jobs he has applied for and take this to his local Job Centre every two weeks for a meeting.

He said: “I used to think that people on benefits just sat around and didn’t try, and that I was paying taxes for these people to do nothing.

“But I now know that’s not the case.”

Things have been tough since the move, but even more so as his actual claim took over two months to be processed by the Job Centre, during which Matt received no money whatsoever.

“Whilst our claim was being processed, the council just expected us to live off my girlfriend’s student loan, but there was no chance we would be able to,” Matt explained.

During the two months, Matt had to delve into his savings and ask for financial help from his parents, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to stay in his flat.

The amount of money he actually receives is based on the rent for a one bedroom flat in the centre of Newcastle, when he actually lives in a two bedroom, which seems to suggest that he could be fighting a losing battle.

The future is an uncertain one for Matt and the only short-term plan he has in mind is to keep trying his hardest to find work in the North-East, at least until his girlfriend graduates from university and the lease on their flat runs out in July.

Then he will have to face another difficult and expensive decision, whether or not to move back down south, where there are more jobs on offer and where the average weekly wage in London is £651 compared to £452 in the North-East.

Taking a step backwards in retrospective, returning unemployed, in debt and desperately seeking work.

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