With half of young black men available for work unemployed, Liverpool’s troubled area fears a return to dark days of the past
“There’s nothing going for us. We’re just stuck here. No job, no college, no fucking money.” Zach Jones, 21, was midway through his A-levels when, by his own admission, he “fucked up”. He started getting involved in the streets of Toxteth, the Liverpool area that saw some of the worst inner-city riots of the 1980s, and is now jobless. According to the Office of National Statistics, more than half of young black men available for work in Britain are unemployed. Zach is one of them and he says the clock has been wound back.
“Look at the area now, Toxteth. In 1981 there was high unemployment, loads of stuff going wrong, and right now the Conservatives have put us back in that 1981 spot even though it’s a much more advanced world. It’s 2012. It shouldn’t be the same. Everyone should be equal. Everyone should be getting opportunities.”
Jeremy Crook, director of the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), said unemployment among black youths had been ascribed historically to a shortfall in skills and academic qualifications. Now that GCSE results among black teenagers have improved (six out of 10 black youngster now leave schools with at least five GCSEs), says Crook, the latest data from the Office of National Statistics indicates that the problem has deeper roots.
“The figures are so stark, it cannot be down to skills. It must be other factors. I still think the perception of young black people is not a positive one in terms of giving them a job.” Talk to Crook and other influential figures in the debate over ethnic minority employment and they say the causes of joblessness among black youths are myriad, from poor inner-city education to disrupted homes. Crook says the latest data, however, should shock employers into action.
“It is going to be difficult to reduce these high levels of unemployment. We need to get employers to look at the data and see if they are doing everything they can in terms contacting colleges and recruitment processes. We need to ensure that they are recruiting fairly and transparently because we are not seeing enough of that.”
Adrian Joseph, a Google executive co-ordinating the company’s mentoring programme, is also chair of Race for Opportunity. Joseph, 48, who was born in Leeds and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, said one in four primary school children in the UK are now from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background – representing a challenge to government and businesses. “With the one-in-four figure, a lot of those children will be knocking on doors for jobs. They are part of the fabric of British society and we need to do a better job of making sure that they have meaningful careers, that they have an equality of opportunity to get their foot in the door. The numbers make clear that is not happening at the moment.”
On the streets of Toxteth, where Zach Jones still harbours ambitions of a civil engineering degree, the consequences of isolation are deep frustration and anger. “They make out that they’re giving black people a chance. There are people who just use their colour as an excuse but I’m not looking at it like that. I look at everyone as equal, we’re all the same, we’re all human beings.”