Ayrshire and Unemployment

by Alex Osborne

Ayrshire has a long history of being affected by unemployment, putting a particular strain on younger people. The situation isn’t as grim as it used to be; Scotland as a whole is going through a period of record high employment. According to the Scottish Government’s figures unemployment is sitting at a national average of around 3.3%, lower than the UK average in 2019- but what does this mean specifically for Ayrshire?

Ayrshire was not spared the 2008 recession and its effects can still be felt today. We remain one of the regions in Scotland most affected by unemployment, with North and South Ayrshire coming first and second respectively in a 2017 government report into unemployment by region; a similar situation was reported in 2013 where Ayrshire declared one of the highest unemployment rates in Scotland, sitting at well over 8%. It is difficult to say exactly why Ayrshire was one of the regions that most bore the brunt of the 2008 economic crash- the fact that our industry was especially vulnerable to a global economic downturn, we were a region with historically high unemployment and had a lack of government investment, all more than likely played a part. Whatever the reason, it has left scars on our towns ever since.

Young people, between the ages of 16 and 24 are especially affected by unemployment, and while government figures tell a story where things are getting better it still doesn’t make for easy reading. In 2013 the youth unemployment rate reached a peak of over 20%, however since then things have improved for young people across Scotland and the unemployment rate has halved to sit at around 10%. Even so, young people are still nearly three times as likely to be affected by unemployment. While it is difficult to measure the exact impact of youth unemployment- the Scottish Gov doesn’t release figures on youth unemployment by region- Ayrshire is no doubt one of the areas most affected by the issue. There were even claims that during the recession Ayrshire had the dubious honour of having the highest youth unemployment in the United Kingdom.

The reasons behind Ayrshire’s long history of high unemployment are varied, complicated and difficult to define, however the effects can be easily seen. Low employment leads to low spending, this leads to our high streets turning into ghost towns where the only shops still left open are bookies and maybe a farm foods if you’re lucky. On top of this there are also a myriad of social impacts, crime increases along with social deprivation, all trickling down to an impact on a region’s mental and physical health. The Scottish Government is not ignorant of the difficulties facing Ayrshire. All the figures above come from reports commissioned by the government. So what is being done?

In December 2014 the government set itself the target of reducing youth unemployment by 40 per cent by 2021 as part of its youth unemployment strategy; in December 2018 North Ayrshire was named in parliament as a region with a particular problem with youth unemployment. As a result, there has been an increase in government investment in Ayrshire in the form of infrastructure projects and the Youth Employment Scheme (North Ayrshire) that was rolled out in 2018, which aimed to work with local businesses to address industrial decline.

This local investment has been met with its share of push-back. In March 2018 when Joe Cullinane, councillor for North Ayrshire, suggested an increase in council tax that would put Ayrshire in line with the government targets for the end of parliament and that would help create a hardship fund to support the 1 in 3 children in the area that live in poverty, he received heavy criticism. Joe defended this proposal, arguing that more funds were needed to make sure Ayrshire was able to properly address its social deprivation issues and unemployment with local investment rather as opposed to simply managing the decline.

Ayrshire as a whole is still a region acutely affected by the problem of unemployment, with North Ayrshire sitting at around 6.6% and East Ayrshire at 5.9%. These regions in combination sit at around double the national average, and well above the UK average of 3.8%. While things are improving across the country, Ayrshire still lags behind, and with economic turmoil forecast ahead Ayrshire will be one of the most vulnerable regions to any future downturns in the economy.

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