Orders of the Day — Redundancy Fund Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 18th February 1981.

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Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne West 6:34 pm, 18th February 1981

My constituency and the Northern region from which I come have more than played their part in making it necessary for the Government to introduce the Bill. I think of major closures in my constituency such as those at Tress Engineering, involving over 500 workers, at Vickers Scotswood plant, involving over 750 workers, at Vickers armaments division, Elswick works, involving 350 workers and several hundred more in shipbuilding. In addition, there have been countless closures of small firms. My constituency, I am sorry to say, has played an important part in creating the need for the Bill.

In the city of Newcastle there are well over 15,000 unemployed, many of them the victims of redundancy. Male unemployment is now in excess of 15 per cent. In parts of my constituency unemployment must be running at 30 to 40 per cent. among males. I think especially of the Low Scotswood area and the Cowgate and Blakelaw areas.

I have in my hand a publication to which I intend to refer at some length. It is called "Roundabout". It is the Blakelaw, Cowgate and Fenham community newspaper. Much of the credit for its production must go to the Blakelaw school within my constituency. It is produced in the upper school of this comprehensive school in an area of my constituency with more than its share of problems.

The journal states: Economic depression is nothing new in Newcastle. That is the understatement of the century. Heavy industry upon which we have relied has been in decline for decades and high unemployment levels have been with us for just as long. The future looks bleak. In this edition of 'Roundabout', as well as the usual news and views of our community, we, with the assistance of 'people in the know', look at the distressing youth unemployment in this area. We've spoken to people in the community and in positions of authority and responsibility; we've spoken to those who, through their community groups, seek to alleviate the boredom of life of the young unemployed. We've spoken to Tish Murtha, a community photographer, who knows what it's like to be young and unemployed. She has produced a startling dossier of photographs which document youth unemployment in West Newcastle. The journal asks: Do you feel discarded by society? How do you view the future? What do you think could be a solution to the problem? How can schools, churches and government depts help you? I shall have something to say in the next issue of "Roundabout" in response to some of those questions.

The journal contains a major feature, from which I wish to give some quotations, on youth unemployment. It states: Tish recounts the case of Pat D., a 20 year old local girl, who worked on a temporary scheme painting and decorating with Community Industry. 'Since the scheme ended,' Tish reports, 'the struggle to support herself and her young child has forced her to take the one course of action open to females in her position—Prostitution.' Tish Murtha, who was for a while based in Blakelaw School Community Room while she prepared the photos for our Christmas Special, worked throughout 1980 on recording life on the dole for the young unemployed of the West End of Newcastle. Her photographs and accompanying text are all to be exhibited in Bristol for a month beginning 14 February. I hope that the citizens of Bristol will view that exhibition and reflect on the misery of so many of our young people in Newcastle and the North East generally.

The article adds For most of this century high levels of unemployment have been a feature of life in West Newcastle, but Tish identifies an alarming new feature—an increase in the level of youth unemployment. What is most disturbing about this is the lasting effect it has on these young lives. Last Friday evening I was talking to a youngster who has just turned 19. He has had the misery of receiving redundancy payments on no fewer than two occasions in his short working life. He is now unemployed for the third time since he left school. This is a youngster who is desperately keen to have a job to support himself..

The article goes on: She tells of many youngsters' experience on the Government's Youth Opportunities Programme, such as that of Carl M. who left school in 1979 with some qualifications and an excellent reference. He received a card which informed him that 'an exciting opportunity has arisen.' He was told 'to report to the City's Cleansing Department, where he was officially introduced to the joys of sweeping Newcastle's streets. Believe me, there are many thousands unemployed in my area of Newcastle who would only be too delighted to get such an opportunity.

The article continues: Few, if any, are fooled by the Youth Opportunities Programme. What the youngsters feel about it is often 'unprintable', says Tish, and is succinctly summed up in her photograph of the resigned expressions of the YOP street cleaners on the shopping centre bench. That is a reference to the photograph. Tish feels that 'the Youth Opportunities Programme is a diversion from the real issue of permanent unemployment, creating long-term jobs for the 'officials', while forcing young people to participate in short-term, low-paid and futile labour, which keeps them temporarily out of the statistics'. Most of them, she says, 'return to the realities of inflated dole queues, bleaker job prospects, and the severe financial strain of Social Security'. Unfortunately, that is abundantly true of the city and the area that I represent. The scheme is a palliative, but I am glad that we have it. At least it gives the young people something to do for the few months that they have the opportunity of participating in it, rather than hang around street corners.

The article goes on to say: Just as damaging is the attitude of people like ourselves who treat these youngsters as skivers and nag them to go out and get a job—when there aren't any. On the whole, reports Tish, the only generation who understand these youngsters are pensioners, perhaps because they remember the Depression years. That is a fair comment that there is a generation around today that has not suffered in the same way as our pensioners did. Although I have never experienced unemployment myself, I have suffered the misery of unemployment, because my father was unemployed for 12 years. I lived in a street of 24 terrace houses. When I was a youngster, I recall only two dads in that street having jobs, so it is nothing new in my part of the world.

Finally, Tish gives a warning because she reminds us that 'there are barbaric and reactionary forces in our society, who will not be slow to make political capital from an embittered youth. Unemployed, bored, embittered and angry young men and women are fuel for the fire'. The distressing fact is that many of today's young unemployed are tomorrow's adult unemployed. Ahead of them lies a life of boredom and deprivation. That is a warning that we must heed, because one has only to look at football grounds to see how the evils of extreme Right-wing groups are being preached to youngsters who seek some diversion from the misery of unemployment.