Blog: Young, Black and Unemployed

Yesterday, I discovered a concept that I believed would change the face of comedy and community integration forever. As an Asian friend was relaying the story of an over inquisitive coach driver making her uncomfortable, I suggested that there was one way to end the confrontation quickly. To look directly into the eyes of the driver and say “is it ‘cos my hijab is black?” And lo and behold, the concept of the Double Whammy Difference (DWD) was born. Playing the victim with not one, but TWO distinctive characteristics that you know will make others, for example, compliment the wonderful smells that emanate from their black-hijab-wearing neighbour’s kitchen at 6am. Every day.

But my excitement was short-lived. As with so many fledgling discoveries, I failed at the first hurdle, namely that something similar existed. In today’s Guardian, Dianne Abbott brought to the world the TWD – Triple Whammy Difference – by highlighting the plight of unemployed young black people in the UK. Unemployed. Young. And black. I’m not bitter that she bettered my genius (honest) but her analysis of the current unemployment situation in the UK is irresponsible and dangerous.

As Mehdi Hasan highlighted just a few days ago, unemployment is an epidemic affecting the whole of Europe. This is a problem that transcends national, racial and generational boundaries. Its societal impacts are well documented and the potential solutions well rehearsed. But given that the problem is one of national (and international) concern, localising it to one specific ethnic group when, lest we forget, ethnic minorities are still that – a minority – such thinking has the potential to fracture community relations. A few years ago, the BNP rode the wave of discontent over housing provision and at one point had 12 councillors in the local council. Start focusing attention on local, ethnic issues related to a national problem and you run the risk of a similar pool of discontent.

Youth unemployment faces the same, if not worse challenges than unemployment in general, regarded as a major issue across the world. The potential for a lost generation accustomed to unemployment has major ramifications for the future wellbeing of the UK and the world at large. But, we’ve been here before. Recessions do have a worse impact on young people who are less skilled to demand jobs requiring experience and find themselves unable to gather the experience they need as opportunities seem few and far between. In terms of skill sets and levels of education, a young ethnic minority person faces the same challenges as anyone else from a similar socioeconomic background. The problem lies not in the colour of their skin but in the culture of education and skills provision in this country. The education system is designed to produce clones that are expected to perform as compartments in a large factory machine called employment. Being young is a problem because you’re the same as everyone else.

Looking at data about the black community across all ages in terms of unemployment, there is a trend. Black Africans and Black Caribbean groups have the highest rates of unemployment of all ethnic minorities. It is fair to expect that this would be mirrored in younger age groups, as the Quarterly Labour Force Survey Diane Abbott refers to reveals. Black Africans rank third of the seven ethnic groups in terms of being ‘economically inactive and not wanting to work’ (behind Bangladeshis and Pakistanis). A quarter of Black African, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean households are workless. Academically, Black Africans fare better than their Caribbean counterparts in GCSE attainment, whilst Black Africans have the highest representation of all ethnic minorities at undergraduate, postgraduate and higher degree levels. But the critical point is this; even if every single ethnic minority person was employed, representatively, they would still be in the minority overall. If there are issues within communities around unemployment or academic attainment, expecting a national solution when we should be focussing on the overall problem together is, to my mind, selfish.

It is reckless to frame an issue of national concern with specific racial characteristics. Our priority should be to create an environment where unemployment as a whole is being addressed and an atmosphere for innovative, forward-thinking enterprise and growth is promoted. Your colour doesn’t matter. What you can do, does.

When nobody is having a bite of the pie, everyone is being left behind. When everyone is having a bite of the pie but people are still being left behind, then we have a problem worth addressing. Britain should not be afraid to pat itself on the back from time to time. We have a much lesser problem with racial exclusion than we give ourselves credit for.


Article: Protect the City, neglect the regions

The unemployment debate raged on but very little was being said about investment away from London – with the focus being on the Olympics and reinvigorating our service industries.  This was perhaps my first properly “journalistic” article as opposed to comment – it was the first time I had used and analysed data as opposed to rhetoric.  I really enjoyed writing this piece and hope to to write more of a similar ilk.

You can find the original article by clicking here.

Unemployment has hit a 17-year high and the figures are, as usual, being masked by political mud-slinging.

“Unemployment doesn’t just happen overnight – it’s the mess you’ve left behind that has caused this,” say the Conservatives. “Our mess is part of a wider mess but if you’d used a broom instead of a pneumatic drill to deal with it, we wouldn’t have consecutive bouts of unemployment!” say Labour.

Both arguments have merit but amid all this, young people are being left behind: the number of young unemployed has reached its highest level since the mid-1980s.

History shows us that migration, particularly internal migration, has a very important role to play in generating economic growth. This graph is based on ONS data on regional migration:

The data, from March 2010 to March 2011, shows that people are generally leaving London, apart from those aged 15 to 24, who are moving in.

Of those who left London, where did they go? Some 84,600 moved to the South East; 53,660 moved to the East; and 19,480 moved to the South West. Unsurprisingly, house prices had a large part to play: the South East experienced the second highest annual fall in house prices nationally.

As for young people migrating to London, the overwhelming majority came from the South East, then the East. This suggests that London is being seen as the place to find work.  But data shows that the largest numbers of job vacancies are in the North West – 48,700 as at November 2011 with London second (31,000 jobs in banking, finance and insurance). Interestingly, 220,000 vacancies nationally are in banking, finance and insurance, after distribution, hotels and restaurants with 46,000.

London is second only to the North East in terms of unemployment rates. Youth unemployment in London has jumped by 26,000 in three years. But with 77,000 young people aged 15 to 24 migrating to London in the last year alone, it is hardly surprising that a sizeable number have been unable to secure employment.

This has to change: jobs have to be created away from London and the South East. Concentrating wealth and opportunities in one part of the country leads to pressure on housing stock and public services, and results in over-population.

Young people are highly mobile, so they should see other parts of the country as feasible places to work and live. House prices are be cheaper the further North you go and, with Londoners already spending £489 more on travel than those in the West Midlands and North of England combined, cheaper travel should be a more appealing prospect.

The Prime Minister has been criticised for protecting the “one square mile of the 86,000 in the UK” with his unprecedented EU veto. He must create hubs in other parts of the country for our financial industry and other services industries to grow.

Article: Why graduates face big challenges in a modern economy

Alongside increases in tuition fees, there was a lot of moaning and grumbling about the lack of jobs available for graduates.  Having seen my parents and their peers work incredibly hard to pave the way for our generation, I was growing frustrated at the sense of entitlement that graduates felt – especially given the rise in the number of graduates since 1997.  I felt I had to share my story but also put forth some home truths about graduate employment.

Published on The Vibe.

In my short five and a bit year career, which has taken me from banking and wealth management through to local government and some freelance writing work, I’ve met a qualified orthopaedic surgeon who earns money by cleaning up people’s litter and regurgitated beer at the O2 arena; I’ve met a qualified International Corporate Law graduate who doubles up as a security guard and a qualified pharmacist who unloads lorry-loads of clothes for brands such as Abercrombie, GAP and H&M.


I even know someone who, throughout university, worked 3 days a week and transferred to full-time during the holidays, studying mainly in the evenings and weekends.  Despite not holding a requisite 2.1, was on a graduate programme at a big FTSE-100 company mainly because of his previous experience and, after being made redundant aged 24, found a job again within 3 months in a completely unrelated field earning a salary higher than his previous job, signing up to do a Masters degree while working full-time and commuting almost 2 hours a day to his new place of work.


Throughout my life, I’ve seen what panic is.  My father, for example, came back to Britain in 1992 after a failed move abroad, found his house was repossessed and a wife and kid to look after, with another one popping up 2 years later.  I recall the Fridays where he’d work from 7am to 7pm, before heading out for his 9pm to 9am shift, getting his sleep and starting the next shift from 7pm to 7am from Saturday.  He worked like this for 15 years until he and I were able to buy a property together and I requested him to stop working his fingers to the bone for the sake of his family as we no longer needed to rent anymore.


The orthopaedic surgeon, my brother-in-law, arrived here a year ago with a view to completing a Masters in Surgical Sciences and lives with his wife and four year old son in a room behind a dry cleaners as his course alone is costing him upwards of £27,000 – and he’s been saving money in Bangladesh.


Graduates, like Reni Eddo-Lodge, in the UK can feel aggrieved for apparently having been sold a lie – get a degree, get a job, you’ll be fine.  But it astounds me to know that so many graduates seem to be oblivious to the world around them despite their apparent higher level of intellect and ability.  Why did they believe that this would be the case in the first place? If there are more and more graduates coming out every year, did nobody step out and think that the value of them as graduates alone will never be enough?


With reports coming out of the number of students that didn’t get a place at university, it concerns me that university is still seen as an indicator of our future success.  Of course graduates are important but surely some attention needs to be given to those who will be entrepreneurial as our economy stagnates? What about those who will build on the slow progress being made by the manufacturing sectors here?


Graduates abroad, like China and India, are part of a journey of tremendous economic and social progress.  Graduates in the UK find themselves in an environment where a lot needs to be done but no one seems to have the initiative to lead from the front as they expected an easy ride.  But more than anything, with successive governments having very little idea of the social and economic direction of the country, new graduates have the opportunity to shape so much.


The protests are just the beginning.  Instead of panicking and looking bitterly at the lack of leadership around them, graduates can come together and be a force of tremendous change, instigating a new wave of economic growth and social stability.  Much of what you learn at university is quickly forgotten unless you go directly into a career that exercises that degree in the first place (such as medicine or law) but, even then, you need to pass numerous professional qualifications to reach industry standards.


Viewing the graduate population as the ‘lost generation’ is scaremongering and a lazy view of how society and the world works.  This is not the first time the graduate population will suffer as the economy goes through a critical juncture and it certainly will not be the last.

Article: Job-seeking graduates need not despair

My second article for The Guardian was based on something I’d read in that day’s paper saying that 70 applicants were vying for each graduate job.  Having been involved in the graduate recruitment process in 2005, where 3,000 applicants were said to have applied for 10 jobs in one company I’d successfully applied to, I wanted to share my experience and, hopefully, inspire others to keep plugging away.

You can find the original article by clicking here

When I told my parents that I’d decided to use part of my redundancy money from my private banking job to do a master’s while I looked for a job, the reaction was as I’d expected. “That’s fantastic!” they said, “now we can tell everyone how marketable you are!” I was a little confused as to why my parents – one a paramedic and the other a domestic engineer – were reacting like recruitment agents. A few weeks later, their excitement was understood. “I’ve had some offers for you” said my mum. Offers? What offers? Are you secretly a headhunter as well has being prolific at cooking the most amazing mousakka ever? “Some of my friends reckon they’ve got some pretty successful young women who might be interested in dating you.”

A master’s degree apparently makes one more attractive to the opposite sex (in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t. Epic dance moves do.) The academic rigour is irrelevant, nor is its potential to get you a job. Its bargaining power in the competitive world of arranged marriages is what gave it weight to my mother.

My first passion academically was always English. But, on the advice of my family and friends, I decided to read economics, finance and management because, ultimately, a job is the reward for a “good” degree and three years of debt accumulation. I was lucky – I got onto a graduate programme at a bank (and had offers from others) in 2005 – at one company, 3,000 applicants were vying for 10 jobs.

Today’s Guardian reports that there are 70 applicants for every graduate job and that “flipping burgers or stacking shelves” is a good way to gain work experience. While it is true that any employment, especially at a time like this, is good employment, I have issues with both the advice and the prevailing attitude to undergraduate studies.

In doing my master’s (in global governance and public policy), I’ve come to realise that higher academic study is just that – academic. On the whole, unless you’re studying the quintessential career-oriented subjects such as medicine, accountancy or law (although I know many lawyers who’ve embarked on different career paths, as well as a medic who dropped out to become a musician), studying at university is about understanding a subject at a higher academic level. It was never supposed to be a job centre. Even those studying finance find they need to do professional qualifications anyway, often repeating much of their undergraduate studies.

So reports such as this only serve to fuel the sense of injustice that graduates feel – and rightly so. On the whole, they’ve accumulated debt and made the investment with the expectation that a job would be there for them at the end. But we are where we are.

Employers don’t help much. They’ve set a seemingly arbitrary “measure of competence for employment” – a 2.1 degree and some relevant work experience – which has only created a mass of clones. All with 2.1 degrees, all did some work at the student union and maybe volunteered abroad. At this point, it’s down to luck. The ones like me who have less than a 2.1, especially at a time like this, may as well rule themselves out of ever getting a decent job – if you’re to believe what’s reported.

While I accept that times are tough, graduates do not have to resort to flipping burgers or stacking shelves, though there’s no shame in that – a job is a job. But, as I’ve told my brother (who turns 16 this September) and other recent graduates at programmes such as Fastlaners, its important that graduates are open to opportunities that may not seem like a direct link to what they want to do.

For example, the third sector will find it very hard at times of austerity to deliver services. You want to be an accountant? Offer to work for free at a local charity in their finance department. Want to work in the arts? Go to your local school and see if there are opportunities for you to help with drama productions. Networking is not about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them.

When I was made redundant, I was scared and 24 years old with plenty of non-student debt to worry about. Banking and finance was all I’d ever known since the age of 16, when I did work experience at a local high street branch. I took a look at my skill set and thought creatively about how this could be transferable, and ended up getting a job in policy – I swapped a job with numbers for a job with words (and lots of them).

Local authorities can help too. Where there is a gap in service provision, they should have strong links with their local partners to offer voluntary opportunities – everyone will need help to get their work delivered, especially with less money.

It is tough. It is unfair when all you’ve been expecting is a nice job after paying your way through university, while your pal who chose not to go to university is earning good money having worked his way up from the age of 18. There is always more than one way to get to a desired destination and sometimes, those different paths will open new destinations.