Posts Tagged 'unemployment'

Iraq looks to a brighter future

Violence and insecurity are no longer the most pressing concerns for most Iraqis since the invasion in 2003, a poll released yesterday has found. _45570317_brit_pres_pie_2262

Figures from a  survey conducted in February for the BBC and others show a marked increase in the optimism of many people and a change to more conventional preoccupations, such as unemployment and the economy.

Perceptions of national security have shown a marked improvement, with 85 per cent of all respondents agreeing that the current situation was very good or quite good, up 23 per cent on a year ago. More than half say that security has improved in the last year, up 16 per cent on figures from March 2008 and nearly three in five say they feel safe in their neighbourhoods, up 22 per cent.

There was a 14 per cent increase, to 60 per cent, of those who think things will be better in Iraq as a whole in a year from now.

Speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Press Association, Haider al Abbadi, a member of the Iraqi Parliament and Chair of its Economic and Reconstruction Committee, confirmed this feeling of optimism.

In measured tones, he quoted the statistic that the number of violent and terrorist incidents had fallen by 90 per cent in the last year. He said: “There has been a marked development in the security field and, in my opinion, the improvement in security has passed the no return line.”

However, he argued that improving the economy and creating jobs were vital if security gains were to be maintained. Unemployment in Iraq is currently at 15 per cent, a figure which al Abbadi argues could provide fodder for dissident groups. He said:

“Of course there is unemployment in every country. But in Iraq, unemployment is more difficult and more complex because there are many criminal and terrorist organisations that try to recruit unemployed people.

“It is in the interest of the country to create jobs.”

271_cartoon_iraq_under_construction_large1The Iraqi government have long been voicing their committment to diversifying the country’s oil-dependent economy into agriculture and trade. More than 1,000 of the dispossessed “intellectuals” that left the country in the wake of the 2003 invasion have reportedly returned to the country over the last year and officials claim that there has been much interest in construction contracts from China, Jordan and Iran.

However, the planned reconstruction works face severe pressure from the financial squeeze. Despite several loans from Asian countries, including Japan and China, the proposed budget of $56bn has still not been ratified by the Iraqi parliament due to the decline in profits from oil exports, which are currently priced at under $40 per barrel after a high of $150 last summer.

This stagnancy in economic development could potentially destroy the fragile peace that has settled over Iraq. Earlier this month, Army Lt. Frank Helmick, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command, said that Iraq’s shrinking budget may force the parliament to choose between the economy and security.

“They are many, many hard decisions that they are going to have to make”, he said.

Job Centre blues

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. PD*26001897

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.”

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April 2020

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