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Unemployment in industrial cities intensifies as coronavirus pandemic continues

The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out a decade’s worth of progress in reducing unemployment in the UK’s industrial cities, according to a new report.

In the nine months between the start of the crisis in February last year and November 2020, unemployment rose by 310,000 in older industrial towns such as Leeds and Huddersfield and 100,000 in former coalmining areas, the focus of the new report.

As a reflection of the rising unemployment and low wages, the number of men and women receiving Universal Credit as an in-work top-up has also doubled since the start of the pandemic.

During the first national lockdown around a third of employees in older industrial Britain were furloughed – roughly the same proportion as across the country as a whole.

The proportion fell to around six to 8% as the economy reopened in the summer and early autumn.

If a third of those who remained furloughed at the end of October, before the introduction of further restrictions, eventually lose their jobs there will be an extra 230,000 redundancies in older industrial towns

Report author Steve Fothergill said that as the economy recovered from the 2007/8 financial crisis, progress was made in bringing down unemployment in older industrial Britain yet coronavirus had altered this.

He said: “In less than a year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in unemployment across older industrial Britain has now been more than offset these gains.”

This high unemployment figures in specific regions could further hinder HR’s efforts to improve diversity within their workforce.

Speaking to HR magazine, CEO of Chameleon People Solutions Martin Tiplady said to combat this, HR should focus on their locality and work hard to create roles and recruit locally.

He said: “HR could work in partnership with agencies to generate apprenticeship and other openings geared to their local communities and skills.”

The report concluded that the pandemic had left the jobless rate higher than after the financial breakdown of the late 2000s.

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Job gains in the UK’s industrial heartlands, parts of Midlands, north, Wales and Scotland, will continue to struggle without ‘levelling-up’ work, it said.

Tiplady added the government must follow through on its clearly stated intentions to level up the economy.

He said: “There is damage from COVID-19 everywhere but, in these specific regions that started from a pretty low base, it is imperative that the scale of their recovery is recognised.”

He said there is now a need for differences in grants, priority spend areas and jobs most likely to have been impacted by COVID-19.

“In the same way that the chancellor was innovative in his plans to secure businesses and income during the pandemic, an equal level of creativity is required now to recognise the need for the quickest possible recovery,” he said.

“If this does not happen, we will be committing those areas and the 16-to 24-year-olds who are most affected to a lifetime of struggle.”

The Impact of the Coronavirus Crisis on Older Industrial Britain report was put together by researchers Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill from Sheffield Hallam University.