The holiday islands where everyone’s working: Why are so few people on the Scillies jobless?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Having two jobs is not uncommon on the Isles of Scilly; neither is having three or four. But on this scattering of islands 28 miles away from Land’s End, having no job at all is almost unheard of.

The archipelago tops Britain’s rankings for rates of employment, according to government figures published last week. All but one of its five inhabited islands has no job-seekers at all, and last month there were just three unemployed people on its largest island, St Mary’s, making up just 0.1 per cent of the 2,200 strong population.

Better known for their turquoise waters and white sand beaches, which attract more than 100,000 tourists annually, the Scillies have successfully managed to buck national trends in unemployment.

While the rest of the country sees growing numbers of young people out of work and long-term unemployed, all three of the archipelago’s benefit claimants were over 25 and all had been out of work for less than six months.

Despite the cost of living creating such high levels of poverty that the islands qualify for special European funding, they have become the unlikely employment capital of Britain.

Louise Parr, 21, is working behind the till at The Sandpiper, a clothes shop in Hugh Town, St Mary’s commercial centre. When not there she can be found waitressing at the Mermaid restaurant round the corner and she says many of her friends have lots of jobs.  “I was born here and I can’t think of anyone who’s been on jobseeker’s allowance that I know,” she says. “It’s quite easy to get a job here, especially in the summer. I’ve done three jobs a summer before – working as a chambermaid, waitressing and working in a café.”

More than a quarter of islanders are self-employed and at least one in five has more than one job.

Diana Mompoloki, 45, is head of economic development for the islands’ council. She believes this high rate of self-employment is key to the low benefit numbers: “Not only do we have low numbers on benefits, we also have a high level of entrepreneurship. I think it’s being an island: people are very resourceful. You often have people with sustainable livelihoods, made up of four or five different jobs.”

The islands have the fourth-highest rate of entrepreneurship in the country – more than 72 businesses per 1,000 population – which is the highest of any local authority outside London.

Ms Mompoloki says these start-ups impact on the Scillies’ working culture: “They’re all micro-businesses that are owner-managed. People like that rarely take up benefits.”

Throughout the economic downturn, the already tiny proportion of unemployed has been falling. In 2001, those on jobseeker’s allowance made up 1.7 per cent of the population – or 23 people, steadily decreasing to the three now on JSA. Samantha Mallon, 41, works as a taxi driver, runs a guesthouse, chairs Five Islands School’s parent-teacher association and has a six-year-old son.

She was born on Bryher, lived in London in her 20s and now lives on St Mary’s. “I’ve never been out of work. Islanders are very self sufficient. They’ve always had to be and that comes through the generations.

“As a community and a group of people we’re tough and I think that work ethic has been passed down by parents. But we’re also fortunate that we do have the jobs people can go to.”

An estimated 70 per cent of working-age islanders are employed in tourism, which means work can be seasonal. But with the flower-growing industry and the council providing winter work, most manage to find something. Even in February, when seasonal work in tourism is at its most scarce, just 10 people across the islands were claiming JSA this year and all for less than six months.

The acute housing shortage and the size of the islands’ tourism industry does improve the employment chances of anyone with a home on the island. One islander, too worried about the fallout of their comments to be named, commented: “Even people who would probably be unemployable on the mainland get jobs here, because we need people to work. It all comes back to limited housing, but if you live here and you’re breathing you can probably get a job. And if you’re willing, you can probably have four or five jobs.”

Declining unemployment levels will also be partly for Darwinian reasons, since some who find it tough to get a job on the islands may just leave. But it would be too simplistic to suggest that all the poorer residents leave and only the rich ones stay. Wages are low on the Scillies – a recent assessment found average wages on the islands were the fourth-lowest in Britain – and around 17 per cent of the population lives in council or social housing.

The high cost of living makes things hard for residents. Food prices are pushed up by the shipping costs and houses are made expensive by scarcity and visitors. But since many people born on the archipelago want to stay badly, they find creative ways to keep their island lives afloat.

After leaving St Agnes for the mainland to work in weapons for the Ministry of Defence, 45-year-old John Peacock was keen to return home. He came back in 1994 to help his dad set up a boat service between St Agnes and St Mary’s and now he is also establishing a software company to run alongside it.

“There are very few people on St Agnes that are employed by someone else,” he explains. “There’s a culture of wanting to work and wanting to be self-sufficient. Until tourism took off around the 1970s, most people were either a farmer or a fisherman and that’s what you did. It’s hard work, but this place gets into your blood and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. My commute to work every day is getting on my quad bike for three minutes. You can’t argue with that.”

Scillonians’ self-sufficiency is so renowned that they still have a reputation for wreck-scavenging when ships run aground on the archipelago’s lethal rocks. After the MV Cita sank en route from Southampton to Belfast in 1997, islanders were enthusiastic in helping with the “clean-up” of a windfall of car tyres, tobacco, house doors and even women’s summer shorts.

That culture of thrift even extends to business ideas. Helen Shave, 38, works in a shop called Rat Bags, which was created after her sister and brother-in-law started keeping offcuts from sail-making and turning them into canvas bags.

She says it is part of being an islander: “Anything that’s scrap people will recycle. Nothing is wasted.”

In the chandlery shop by the seafront, John Read, 73, is serving a mixture of local boatmen and immaculately dressed visitors fresh from their yachts. “I’ve been self employed in printing most of my life and now in retirement I’m employed,” he says, sifting through rows of bolt trays.

“I’m supposed to be part-time but I work 33 hours a week. People also work hard because a lot of employment here is low-paid.”

Mike Pender, 69, a lobster fisherman from Bryher who has come in to get bolts for his boat, chips in: “This is  the first day off I’ve had in ages. We don’t let people in unless they can bloody work.”

News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
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

Langley James : CRM Services Manager; West London up to £40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Langley James : CRM Services Manager; West London u...

Langley James : IT Support; Residential Agency; Mayfair; up to £30k

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Langley James : IT Support; Residential Agency; May...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?