The issue of employment and economy is crucial in the discussion concerning race disturbances and their causes. Well-functioning economy, that is prosperity and low unemployment rates both at regional and local levels, is very important for the community cohesion. This part of the work will focus on the employment structure, unemployment rates and working possibilities of people in Oldham, concentrating especially on the situation of ethnic minorities.
Oldham has always been a working class town, the centre of the textile industry and machinery. This attracted labour migration from many countries, especially after World War II. Economic opportunities changed with the loss of the textile industry by the 1980s and the town had to concentrate on other industries, which however remained low skilled and low wage.
IV. 3. 1. Employment
As stated in the essay “Managing for Diversity” researching northern English cities, the North West of the country remained to be more concentrated on manufacturing. This is the case of Oldham where one in four of the employed were in this sector in 2001, but there was a decline of 22 per cent since 1991. The change in the sector is illustrated in the essay. In Oldham, the share of employment in the manufacturing sector was 46.2 per cent in 1984, but there was a dramatic fall to 25.2 per cent in 2001. Financial and public sectors were less represented in comparison with the North West of England (“Managing for Diversity” 51). It was difficult for the inhabitants of the town to adapt to the changing economy, especially for the ethnic minorities, working as cheap labour in the mills. People skilled enough were able to succeed in another type of job, mainly white collar jobs, and could easily find a new employment, but “those without such skills found themselves on the dole, in self-employment or learning new skills. This impacted on many but most of all on the people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic origin since racial discrimination in a more competitive labour market, poor command of English, lack of transferable skills and often poor health stemming from their previous employment made them particularly vulnerable” (Ritchie 33).
The Ritchie Report also states that the restructuring caused that the employers provided fewer possibilities for jobs than before. The labour costs remained low, which attracted the new investors, but was not very positive for the future development of the town.
IV. 3. 2. Unemployment
According to 2001 Census data, unemployment in Oldham was 3.7 per cent with 40.7 people working full-time (“Neighbourhood statistics”). The Ritchie Report adds that this is not true for many districts, such as Coldhurst and Werneth where unemployment rates are 11 per cent and for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis it is 25 per cent. Calculations are that the unemployment rates are the highest in the areas most ethnically mixed; these are Alexandra, Coldhurst, Werneth and St.Mary’s. In the areas dominated by white population, Holliwood and St James, unemployment was 6 and 5.5 per cent respectively (Ritchie 33). The Ritchie Report also points at the high unemployment level among the young people aged 16 – 24, “among the 16 – 19 years olds Oldham has the second highest unemployment rate (8.1 per cent) in Greater Manchester and among 20 – 24 year olds Oldham has the highest unemployment rate (10.2 per cent)” (Ritchie 33). The essay “Managing for Diversity” states that youth unemployment was the highest at the beginning of the 1980s. Then it declined and till the present the unemployment rates are higher for ethnic minority youths than for the whites (“Managing for Diversity” 52).
IV. 3. 3. The Ritchie Report recommendations
The Ritchie Report recommends improving opportunities for young people. The qualification of the employees must be improved which is influenced by the education possibilities for young people, especially students of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin.
Another issue is equal opportunities at work. Many interviewees answered that they were discriminated against because they lived in Oldham. There is still prejudice of the employers e.g. against the Asian clothes or customs in general, which can influence the process of recruitment. The recommendation was to eliminate racial and religious discrimination from the labour market (Ritchie 34). One of the biggest employers in Oldham is the Council, which “has had a legal duty under the Race Relations Act since 1976 to do two things: firstly, to work towards the elimination of racial discrimination, and secondly, to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations between people of different racial groups” (Ritchie 34). This obligation was extended by Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 to all public sector organisations (Ritchie 34).
Another recommendation from the Ritchie team is concerning recruitment. The employers in the town should pay attention to the needs of their employees and they should offer some wider training and strategies for further development especially to the black and minority employees. A project launched by the Council is a special training that should raise the cultural awareness of the staff. It is supposed that the training would lead to a better understanding and knowledge of the communities, which will contribute to better a workplace. The training should be compulsory for the Council and will be recommended to other employers in the town. They should also attract people from different ethnic backgrounds for the job (Ritchie 35).
The race riots had also a great impact on business. 95 per cent of the businesses interviewed, answered that they were affected by the riots, these were especially restaurants and taxi service at Union Street. However, the report states that there has been recovery mostly in the retail business. The recommendation is to support start-up and small businesses (Ritchie 36).
According to the report, Oldham asked the UK and EU for funding and was very successful in that regeneration operation. The Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council has conducted much research to map Oldham’s economy. Some of its findings are that the town managed to diversify its industry after the loss of the textile industry, the main areas of employment have been the service sector, construction, food, electrical, and medical equipment. Oldham’s economy has improved, “Oldham has moved from the 38th most deprived local authority area in England in 2000 to the 43rd most deprived in 2004” (Cantle 27).
A clear vision of Oldham for the next fifteen years is set in “Oldham Beyond”, which suggests the following six issues: Wealth Creation, Liveability, A Learning Community, Common Ground, Sustainability, and New Oldham. Liveability concerns the quality of living in the town, that means the quality of education and services, environment, entertainment, low level of crime so that the town encourages not only the people from outside to move and live there but also offers encouragement for the investors and businesses (“Oldham Beyond” 14). Other suggestions are to raise the pupils’ achievements at the secondary schools and to develop a new University College. Another objective is to improve connection with Manchester by building a Metrolink, which will provide Oldham with more employment possibilities.
The Cantle Report stresses that all communities should benefit from the economic development. They appeal to the Metropolitan Borough Council to deal with the inequalities in different parts of the town to bridge the gap between the most and the least deprived areas. It is also necessary to employ more Asian population in the local economy areas e.g. construction (Cantle 30).