'No way are my children running this shop, it's too much like hard work'

Asian parents' hopes for their families could kill the corner shop. Report by Charlie Bain and Charles Arthur
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Rajen Phillips' children are in India revising hard for their examinations. His daughter, Naline, 22, has set her heart on becoming a doctor and is studying medicine at university in Delhi.

"There is no way I would ever want her to come back here and run this shop like I'm doing," said Mr Phillips, who runs a newsagent on the Isle of Dogs in east London. "For a start I've spent too much money on her education and running this shop is just too much like hard work."

Mr Phillips is of the generation of Asian shopkeepers who do not want their children to take over their corner shops, according to research published yesterday.

Instead, they want them to move into professional jobs, becoming the doctors and accountants that their parents had wanted to become themselves.

"The people who set up these businesses were economic and political migrants, but from the middle classes, not the bottom of the social structure," Tariq Modood, who led the research, said. "They're saying that being self- employed was good enough for them, but that they want something better for their children."

Within the next decade there could be a rapid change on high streets around the country, as the corner shops are sold for cash by the parents as their children graduate from university and move into professional work.

Recent exam results, showing Asian children outstripping other ethnic groups - including whites - back up the findings.

The survey, funded by the Policy Studies Institute, looked at self-employed Asian workers - typically shop owners, clothes- makers and those in the minicab trade. One in four British Asians is self-employed - almost double the number among the white population.

A combination of racism and lack of jobs forced many into setting up their own businesses, despite having educational qualifications better than many employed workers. Half of the owners of businesses questioned in the survey said that they did not want their children to carry on the business, and only one in five actively wanted to keep the work in the family.

A similar change occurred after the Second World War, Dr Modood said. "I think this is what happened with Jewish immigrants who had had to set up their own shops," he added. "They wanted to see their own children move into white-collar and professional work."

Mr Phillips was 50 last month. Most of what he earns goes towards his children's education. He rents his shop from the Docklands Light Railway and his lease on it will run out in 2000. He cannot wait to leave.

"The traditional Asian corner shop is history," he said. "It's dying out. It's the same with all the Asians around here. We just can't compete with the big supermarkets like Tesco's and Sainsbury's, which are springing up all over the place.

"I work a 12-hour day and I wouldn't want my children to do the same. Not that they would. They've seen how hard I work. My son wants to be an engineer and my daughter will no doubt make it as a doctor."

Mr Phillips believes that more and more children of Asian shopkeepers are turning against tradition and moving into white-collar and professional work. "Asians are inherently supportive of their parents and there is no doubt that some children around here will follow in their parents' footsteps. But others realise that there is no future in running a shop like this. You have to deal with all sorts of people in this area and it isn't worth it."

Also on the Isle of Dogs, in his news and video shop, Peter Patel is trying to serve a swarm of children who have descended on him after school has finished for the day. He keeps a keen eye on two boys hovering around the sweet counter at the far end of the shop. "It's like this every day around this time," he said. "You've got to ask yourself if it is all worth it."

Mr Patel, 46, has owned the shop for eight years. He has two daughters Janu, 10, and Kinner, 18, who has just started a degree course in pharmacy at a college in Liverpool.

"There is just no way she'd come and work here,"Mr Patel said. "She wants to be a pharmacist and I have to accept that."

Mr Patel lives in Watford. He wakes at 3.30am, arrives at the shop at 5am for the paper round and shuts up shop at 8.00pm.

"It's very hard work for not a lot of rewards," he said. "And there are far too many competitors as well. My daughter is taking the right route and it seems that many of the children around here are thinking the same way."