Independent Decade : Acacia Avenue feels the chill wind of change

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The Independent Online
Ten years ago, the Baker family could sit back and watch from the comfort of their home in Acacia Avenue as hundreds of thousands of jobs disappeared in the old, heavy industries.

Edward Baker, the 45-year-old head of the household, was shocked by the violent clashes between pickets and police outside Rupert Murdoch's plant in Wapping, east London. But for the inhabitants of Acacia Avenue these were simply images on the television. Their futures were mapped out and secure. Mr Baker, an accountant, had become finance director at a clothing company. His wife had no need to work. Their 17-year-old daughter was a trainee cashier in a high-street bank and their 18-year-old son was about to go to university to read economics.

Since those days, the family has suffered a substantial change in its fortunes. Two years ago, the textiles group where Mr Baker had been employed since he graduated from his college of advanced technology 25 years ago completed a "restructuring programme" and he was made redundant. He has failed to secure a permanent job. But as a self-employed financial consultant he has had several short-term contracts.

Thousands of others were almost certainly in the same boat: the number of self-employed in the economy as a whole rose from 2.7 million to 3.2 million between 1986 and 1996.

As Edward worked at home, Emily, his wife, discreetly did a little light domestic work for a friend for a small but regular payment (untaxed) but now works part-time at a ladies' outfitters and performs ad hoc secretarial work for a solicitor. She is in good company. The number of people with second jobs between 1986 and 1996 has increased from 823,000 to 1,284,000 - a rise of 56 per cent.

Anne Baker also lost her job at the same time as her father, when the bank closed her branch. Ms Baker has since been a receptionist for a hotel, working between 7.30am and 9.30am and 5pm and 7pm. The number of part-time workers has grown in a decade from 5 million to 6.4 million - an increase of some 25 per cent.

Andrew, her brother, left university and became a trainee manager with a large engineering company. He has remained with it but many of his contemporaries have been made redundant. In fact, employment in manufacturing during the decade slid from 5.2 million to 4.6 million, a drop of 12 per cent. Employment in the service sector has increased from 13.7 million to 15.9 million - up 16 per cent.

Mr Baker senior believes he is about to secure a post now - pounds 15,000 for a six-monthly renewable contract - rather than the pounds 50,0000 per annum he earned as a finance director. The job is with a much smaller business, designing computer software. Many other employers had turned him down. Largely, he thought, because they wanted someone younger. He is 55, and many of his contemporaries who attended a "job club" provided by the state have simply given up.

Barrie Clement

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