The Job Centre on Barnsbury Road presents a bleak prospect. Inside the packed reception, an air of resigned despair clouds the room that no amount of neon lighting or brightly-coloured wall designs can dispel.
Set back on a small side street off the Barnsbury Road, the Barnsbury Job Centre Plus stands like a testament to ‘Broken Britain’; outside, teenagers in hoods skulk around, smoking and shouting. Ironically, cutbacks forced the other Job Centre on Upper Street to close last year.
Islington has been hit hard by the downturn in the job market. Job Centre figures show that there were nearly 1,500 redundancies in the borough at the end of last year – 20 per cent of the London total. The number of vacancies on offer is at its lowest level since records began in 2001, according to the Office of National Statistics, offering the unemployed little hope for the future.
Ben White, 32, from Barnsbury, used to work as a manager in a local accountancy firm. Six weeks ago he was made redundant due to severe cutbacks and he has been unable to find a suitable job since. He stares at the floor, sucking hard on his cigarette. “There’s just nothing decent out there,” he says adamantly.
“I used to make a good salary and enjoy my job. In there [the Job Centre] there’s nothing but shit.”
A trawl of the Job Centre computer system confirms his claim. Of the 2,957 jobs advertised in the local area, the majority offer between £7 and £9 an hour and at least a third bear the grim maxim “exceeds the national minimum wage”, the legal pay requirement of £5.73 an hour for workers aged over 22. Even these vacancies at the bottom of the pay scale require extensive expertise.
An advertisement for a council PA not only demands that the applicant “MUST have relevant experience in the public sector”, but also shorthand, advanced IT skills and audio typing. Another for a Construction Design Manager, which promises to pay only “above the minimum wage”, requires a degree in engineering or equivalent, a mandatory four years at university.
At the higher end of the scale, there were a few vacancies for plumbers and electricians, although the hourly wages on offer were between £10 and £15 an hour, a tenth of the £100 plus an hour wages offered a year ago. The future looks bleak, even for those with essential skills. Unemployment in Islington rose by 0.5 per cent above the national average at the end of last year to 6.6 per cent, aggravating an area already divided by wealth.
Bridget Fox, a local Liberal Democrat campaigner, warns that this trend could have long-term effects. “One of the biggest challenges is the growing social exclusion of some young people,” she says. “The longer they stay out of work, the less suited to and able to cope with work/hold down a job they may become.”
For more details, visit: www.islingtonnow.co.uk