The Jobless Crisis: Families feel the pain of isolation and rejection

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The Independent Online
FIFTEEN months ago, Alastair Drummond, 30, was earning an average of pounds 18,000 a year working in recruitment. Promoted six times in four years, he bought a pounds 69,500 flat in Woking, Surrey, and hoped to buy a larger place later that year.

With a wife with no job, and a two-year-old son, the family needed more space. But then he lost his job, without a redundancy payment. The flat is now worth pounds 43,000 - with pounds 68,500 outstanding on the mortgage.

Alastair and Catherine used to lead a sociable life, with visits to theatres and restaurants; now they go to the pub once a month and feel rejected by their friends, who have stopped ringing up. Alastair spends many Sundays driving round industrial estates writing down company names, so he can ring them the following day and ask for a job.

One by one, the wedding presents are being sold off: the photograph frames, the decanter, the silver ornaments. Much of the record collection has gone. So have tables, chairs and a television set. Last Monday, it was the turn of the record player and CD player to be advertised in the local paper. Alastair Drummond asks awkwardly whether I would like a cup of tea, or a beer. I ask him what he is having, and he quickly says tea. He cannot afford to give me a beer.

Lynne Berry, director of the Family Welfare Association, said the unemployed professional middle classes had been stunned by their inability to find jobs.

Richard and Joanna (not their real names), have five children, aged one to 14, and are incapable of supporting themselves.

When they moved to Cornwall in August 1988, they bought a restaurant, which they sold at a loss because of the recession, and a farmhouse that is leaking because they cannot afford repairs. Richard, 35, got a job with a financial company but was made redundant in March 1990. Although he recently started a training course with a local newspaper, he has been told there is no job at the end of it.

The result is a strained marriage: Richard left and came back only because Joanna was pregnant. To Richard, as well as the Drummonds, the children must be looked after before anything else. He admits that he has considered robbery, 'but I didn't know how to get into it'. Suicide also crossed his mind, 'but I didn't have the guts'. Joanna has ulcers because of the strain.

They have to beg the school to include their children on educational trips that they cannot afford; they have disconnected the answerphone to avoid the cost of returning calls; they occasionally have the chance of a drink when they play the piano and sing at the local pub ('but only if the landlord remembers to buy us one'); and they are still stinging with anger over the way a Department of Social Security official told Richard to forget trying to forge a career as a musician because he was 'a loser and would never get the work'.

Zelda West-Meads, of the marriage guidance organisation Relate, says a growing number of marriages are being affected by either the threat of redundancy or the feeling of anger and failure when it comes. 'Many people are trapped in unhappy marriages because they are unemployed and cannot face living in even more reduced circumstances if they split everything up and live apart.'

The Drummonds, and Richard and Joanna suffer from the isolation that comes with middle-class unemployment. Michael Roe, a builder who has not worked for three years, and his wife Caroline, are not alone. They live with their three children in a council house on the West View estate in Hartlepool, where more than 60 per cent of the tenants are unemployed.

For Michael, 28, unemployment is something that has happened to his parents, his brother, and now him. But the Roes' priorities are no different from those of professional people who never expected to face it. Caroline said: 'I don't care if I look like a tramp as long as the kids have got clothes on their backs, and I have enough nappies to go round. I don't look to the future, because I can't. I know Michael will never get work in Hartlepool again.'

It is the effect on children that hurts. A former army officer made redundant by a computer company 11 months ago recalled how his six-year-old son turned to him in tears and said: 'Dad, are you going to die?'

(Photographs omitted)