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Face the truth: Birmingham isn't working.

There is a wearisome familiarity to the latest analysis of unemployment and social deprivation in Birmingham.

Statistics may change from year to year, but the gloomy message remains the same. The tale of two cities - where a largely white, middle class population has work and decent housing and the black and minority ethnic population is likely to be unemployed and claiming benefit - continues to store up severe problems for the future.

There are exceptions, of course. But even the exceptions to this rule make uncomfortable reading.

White-dominated communities in places like King-standing, Kingsbury, Weoley and Bartley Green are also experiencing high levels of what the Government likes to call worklessness. It should come as no surprise to learn that these are the very areas where support for the anti-immigration British National Party is high.

Figures produced by a council committee, setting out where deprivation is at its worst, prompt tough questions about the impact of countless council, Government and European job-creation programmes. The exact amount of money channelled into inner city wards since 1997 in the hope of providing people with the skills they need to find work is probably incalculable. In any case, it clearly hasn't done much good.

At some stage in the next ten to 15 years this city will move to majority ethnic status. If the economic and social patterns of today - black and Asian communities likely to be unemployed or have low-paid jobs and a hard core of poverty in white working class neighbourhoods - are still prevalent, Birmingham will surely face a backlash of social disorder.

The most depressing thing about these figures is that they do not reflect a new trend. It is not as if unemployment in Birmingham has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It is a fact that worklessness and a huge take-up of welfare benefits has been ingrained for years and appears to defy all attempts at improving matters.

The brilliance of Birmingham city centre simply serves to amplify the sheer dowdiness of other parts of the city. Shoppers at the Mailbox might think they were in another world if they bothered to walk a few miles along the canal in the direction of Aston and Nechells.

It is time for the Strategic Employment Partnership - the council, Jobcentre Plus, the Learning and Skills Council, Connexions and Business Link - to re-think its strategy. Birmingham isn't working at the moment.
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Title Annotation:Leaders
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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