Liverpool’s Nightmare

Frank Field

  • Liverpool on the Brink: One City’s Struggle against Government Cuts by Michael Parkinson
    Policy Journals, 184 pp, £9.50, November 1985, ISBN 0 946967 06 7
  • Unemployment in Liverpool. Vol. I: Unemployment Changes 1982-1985 by Michael Hayes
    Liverpool City Council, 16 pp, £2.00, November 1985
  • Liverpool’s Economy. Vol. I: Employment and Unemployment: Changes and Trends 1978-1991 by Michael Hayes
    Liverpool City Council, 39 pp, £2.50, June 1985

Whether the country likes Derek Hatton or not – and thankfully most people don’t – he has a point. Liverpool’s two-year budget campaign, brought to a climax after the recent vote to balance the books, has had a deadly serious side to it. Militant’s primary aim has of course been to use the City’s financial crisis as a massive recruiting drive for the Tendency. But this macabre political jamboree could not have lasted this long had there not been behind it the deeply-felt grievances of tens of thousands of people conscious of the near-collapse of Merseyside’s economy. And what the good old British public may not have realised as they viewed the nightly twistings, turnings and rantings of leading Militants on the TV news was that they were being given a chilling glimpse of their own future. For what has been happening to Liverpool may yet prove to be a mere dress-rehearsal of the fate awaiting most British cities. Part of Liverpool’s importance, then, is that it provides a microcosm of what has been happening to the British economy. The difference is that Liverpool’s decline is occurring at a grotesquely faster rate. The city – and the surrounding area, as in my own constituency of Birkenhead – have been hit by unemployment as if by some kind of Black Death.

Since the advent of this Tory government in 1979, 65,000 of the city’s jobs, one in five, have vanished. In manufacturing alone the total loss of jobs has been 40,000, with the result that Liverpool’s manufacturing industry has been almost halved in the past six years – a rate of decline which is double that suffered by the nation as a whole. Massive redundancies have been enforced in Liverpool’s traditional job markets: sugar refining (which has disappeared completely from the scene), soap-making, ship-repairing, marine engineering, and rope and twine manufacturing. Less predictably, the much-vaunted new in dustries of rubber and synthetic fibre manufacture have already disappeared into the history books. The regular announcement on Friday evenings of impending plant closures has seemed to sound the region’s death knell.

Despite the outward migration of the mobile population – largely the young and the employed – the numbers of unemployed have risen to match this catastrophic decline in manufacturing industry. The official data show that one in every four of the city’s able-bodied residents is now standing in the dole queues: if there is an area where it is impossible to accuse the Government of inaction, it has been in its attempts to present the unemployment figures in the most favourable light – but this is what the official data show. The staggeringly high rate of unemployment is un-evenly spread both throughout the city and across different social groups. Those without work are most likely to live in the inner-city area, or on the outer-city council estates; and, increasingly, the unemployed possess a young face. Over 80 per cent of the 16-18-year-olds not in school are either on a youth-training scheme or are registered as unemployed.

As the dole queues have lengthened so too has the period of time Liverpool citizens spend unemployed. Currently, over 53 per cent of the unemployed have been waiting for a job for over a year. Not only, therefore, has an increased number of citizens been conscripted into unemployment to wage Mrs Thatcher’s war against inflation, but the period of conscription is lengthening. Long-term mass unemployment generates a secondary, equally important decline in the immediate neighbourhoods in which the long-term unemployed live.

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