Saturday, 5 November 2016

Why we need to move jobs from cities back into towns

"What London really has is an "all the jobs are here and nowhere else" crisis."

In London today, we have a housing crisis - that's the rhetoric at least. Well, we kind of do - there is certainly more demand than there is supply of housing in the capital; the price of rents is completely absurd with £900pm pretty much entry level even for somewhere in zone 3. This was pretty much the line I took until I moved back to the Medway and decided to do a job search from there. What London really has is an "all the jobs are here and nowhere else" crisis. I am not poorly skilled, I have a computer science degree and a number of years of experience in technology roles. However, when I came to find a job, it took me months to find anything - eventually I ended up taking a job in London with a hefty commute attached. The roles I came across in the Medway seemed to come in a few primary flavours:

The Myth: These are job adverts which are posted on a semi-permanent basis. These workplaces, usually retail stores, accept applications on a near permanent basis but are extremely unlikely to get back to you. You normally would find adverts for these jobs in shop windows. These tend to end up being zero hour contracts.

The Christmas Temp: There were a large number of christmas temp positions. This seems to be one of the primary ways of getting into a role in the area. Even office work in technical roles seems to work on this basis - you get into, for instance, a support role as a temp and then eventually get kept on as a permanent staff member. In the meantime, you basically have no job security.

The Recruitment Agency: They will attempt to tempt you in with reasonable sounding roles in the area - although in my experience you will only be given absolutely last notice sick cover work in the middle of nowhere to finish in the dead of night. You see some real gems in the shop windows of these recruiters - one stood out to me advertising a minimum wage position in a town located several miles away, doing a night shift.

The Really Specific Council Position: Pays reasonably well but you have to have a number of years of experience in some sub-specialism of something you've never heard of.

Drive To An Industrial Complex In The Middle of Nowhere: There are a number of roles in the area which are usually technical positions, however to get there you have to drive to work as they are based in rural locations (i.e. cheap rent).

There is some drive to create some new jobs in the area, but only around the well-off dockside area. In the less well off places of the area, you can expect to travel for an hour from some parts. This has a particularly worrying impact when you consider that those in the worse off areas are more likely to be unemployed - these people have far more considerable barriers to entering work not only in terms of the way that employers see them, but in terms of the effort they have to put in to get to work in the first place: They will ultimately end up receiving the same (most likely less) pay for much more time and energy spent.

"They will ultimately end up receiving the same (most likely less) pay for much more time and energy spent."

All but the last category of jobs would pay about the same as minimum wage, most likely lower if they thought they could get away with it.

It seems to be the case that even 40 miles out of London, Medway has been relegated to the position of a commuter town for London - and it would appear to be the same for many other locations in the South of England. In the towns it is the case that there tends to be enough housing but not enough jobs, and in London the other way around.

"In the towns it is the case that there tends to be enough housing but not enough jobs, and in London the other way around."

So why is this a problem? Time, primarily. For me, I spend approximately 3 hours (5 hours if I have to go to another office in Hertfordshire...) traveling to and from work each day. If my commute counted as a part of my work (which it might as well do, it's not exactly leisure time) then I would be working for a minimum of 11 hours a day up to about 13 hours a day. This is certainly not an uncommon reality, seeing as I share my train with many others making the exact same journey every day, with Southeastern failing to provision enough carriages to service many rush hour services.

We put so much emphasis on infrastructure and yet miss the point: Aren't we all so much better off if we can work near to where we live? There are many positives to this: A shorter commute, a tighter knit community, less spent on transport, alleviating some of the strain from the transport network in general and taking some of the pressure off of London to provide work for everyone.

However in the market based way in which we provision work, the best roles seem to be located in a central area where very few can practically afford to live but many can more or less get to through some often very convoluted commute (never mind just getting into London, many commuters have to traverse through the city which can be a stressful and time consuming process in itself). This of course is sort of a reasonable compromise, it seems - where most people can work at any company they are eligible, and the companies don't have to open many offices. However this all comes at the price of our time and energy.

There is also the integration problem.
So much of the rhetoric around anti-immigration, particularly from those who seek not to appear to explicitly support racism is the issue of integration of immigrants in local communities. The story usually goes as such: A group of immigrants are moved in, and they are all located near to one another. They all speak the same language and share similar cultural characteristics and as such form a kind of a clique. This clique gives them a kind of community which is parallel to the rest of society and as such gives rise to social tensions.

So we have to wonder, what is it about our communities that enables the isolation of such communities? In times gone by, if you moved into a particular area, you would not only live in that area, but you would work and socialise in that area as well - there were simply not the kinds of transport networks that we have in the 21st century.

If our society was set up in such a way that we not only lived near immigrants and refugees, but also worked and socialised with them, that they would not end up becoming so isolated.

Unfortunately in so many towns, the only work available is retail work or similar, with a very limited number of positions in total - with an exceptionally difficult process of getting a job when you consider that most people will have to apply to tens of positions to get one.

As such I feel that the way our towns and cities are set up is fundamentally broken for many people - particularly if they can't drive ( but even if they can, congested roads are common place). Expecting such a large amount of people to commute to work is untenable - expanding the public infrastructure to enable them to do that becomes increasingly more costly. We need to be looking at opening far more workplaces in our towns - where people can afford to live - and focusing less on simply on swelling London far beyond its point of diminishing returns.

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