A poison tearing a family in pieces: South Tyneside has the highest unemployment figure in Britain, while Settle has one of the lowest. We asked people from both places how they felt

JOHN NESBITT languishes in a council house in Hebburn, south of the Tyne, an area with Britain's highest density of unemployed. He acknowledges the poison that has entered his system since he lost his job as a driver a year ago last week. 'I have become very lazy,' he said.

'He is very short-tempered,' said his wife, Margery. 'Half the time I don't know if I'm doing right or wrong. If he's going to be snapping at me, then I snap back and then I'm sorry, because I know what he's going through.'

'I get very vexed,' he said, his chin trembling. 'I find myself avoiding people.' Margery said: 'When he is asked to go to an interview, I say, 'I'll not build my hopes up.' But I do. Then whoomph] A stab in the back.'

John even seems apathetic about his daughter's wedding, which took place yesterday in St John's Church of England in Canning Street. Dawn Nesbitt, 21, an unemployed nurse, married Ian McAloon, an unemployed forklift truck driver. The young couple has been given a promising start: Dawn has managed to borrow a wedding dress; Mr McAloon has found a job, which he will start after the honeymoon; they have also secured a council house. But, said Mr Nesbitt, 'the wedding preparations have put me into debt. It will take years to pay off.' His son, a 16-year-old garage apprentice, is helping out.

Mr Nesbitt, 41, has been married to Margery, who is slightly older, for 22 years. Both were born and bred in Hebburn, a community that once clanged prosperously with shipbuilding and engineering, coal staithes, chemical works, forges, steamships and trains. Mr Nesbitt's father was a shipyard worker when Hebburn had six busy yards (only one remains); Mrs Nesbitt's worked for Reyrolle's, the electrical engineering firm that once employed 13,000 but now has fewer than 4,000.

As in other parts of South Tyneside, stretching from Gateshead to South Shields and where almost one in five are out of work, the community has little to bind it other than its debts. It is not quite a society in rags, but it betrays the symptoms of one deprived of the machinery for both industry and insurance against the wastage of human capital.

Mr Nesbitt has sent off 300 job applications since he was laid off by a car-delivery firm. He promises 'not to let this government beat me'. But it is soon clear that he sees himself as a victim of irrational, capricious forces. His Vauxhall Cavalier has been sold, and his telephone removed. The comfortable pounds 700 a month (including overtime) has given way to pounds 69 a week for him and his wife. His body is puffed up from fatty, cheaper cuts of meat, and he can no longer afford to work off the excess by swimming, at pounds 1 a session, in the local pool.

'Next Friday, I finish a six- week course at a Job Opportunity Workshop,' he said. 'The idea is to try to give you a bit more courage to go for job interviews. They provide you with envelopes and stamps for your applications. There have been 150 replies to my 300 letters, and hardly any interviews.'

Margery said: 'When the post arrives you look at the envelope. You know immediately what sort of reply it is. If it's a 24p stamp, there's just the faintest possibility of an interview. If there's an 18p stamp it's always a bugger-off letter.'

'It's always demoralising,' Mr Nesbitt said.

He describes himself as a Labour voter, though he has never been active in politics. He once belonged to the General Municipal and Boilermakers' Union, but left after joining his last employer, a non-union firm. He never was a great activist about anything, other than growing vegetables in his small garden ('We eat everything in the garden').

Asked about John Major's performance, his lip curls contemptuously. 'I would like to know why the Government can say to you, 'You have got to live on a certain amount of money, no matter what.' ' He has thought of writing to MPs, Labour and Tory, to curse their ineptitude and their pounds 30,000 salary, but refrained 'because I couldn't be sure I'd control my language'.

Yet he is neither politicised by his plight nor much interested in such issues as rising crime and its causes. For a man whose son is still in his teens and whose daughter is scarcely out of them, John Nesbitt has lost his zest and become almost indifferent to what people do and how they do it: as though his civic conscience has been fatally embarrassed.

When Mr Nesbitt lost his job, his children were supportive. 'I have always been a good provider for them. They are two strong kids and when it happened Ian said, 'You are a well-qualified driver. You'll soon get another job.' '

Margery said: 'We were disappointed - not in him, but in the company that sacked him.'

'And when they sacked me they put in two kids in my place at half my wages,' Mr Nesbitt said.

In one of his few job interviews, he allowed himself to be optimistic. 'I applied to learn to drive buses and was to start the course last month. Then they told me I was too old, and in any case I would have to be unemployed for two years to qualify for the course.'

So, still in his prime, Mr Nesbitt focuses on the free bus- pass that enables him to travel to South Shields at 9.30 every morning, and the free lunch, stamps and stationery he receives there at the Job Opportunity Workshop. He returns home every afternoon at four, to a wife whose arthritic hands prevent her from taking a secretarial job. He sinks into a sofa that shows signs of wear, switches on the television and dozes off.

Last Friday evening, husband and wife sat opposite one another in the small living-room, the tension between them almost palpable.

While Mr Nesbitt may have lost his sense of purpose and be on his way, perhaps, to losing his conception of, and faith in, his regional identity, the poison of the apathy has begun to have a disturbing effect on his marriage. His wife's face is impassive as he refuses to be photographed with her, offering no reason.

'If I'm still searching for work this time next year, we'll be divorced,' Mr Nesbitt said suddenly.

Surely he can't mean that? 'I do. Things will get worse with us facing each other day after day. I'll move. I'll get out of Hebburn. I'll leave Tyneside. I'll. . . . '

His chin trembles again. Mrs Nesbitt is silent.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing