If you want work here, you can find it: 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

UNEMPLOYMENT is seldom discussed in the North Yorkshire town of Settle. Kevin Lord, 30, who works in the town's creamery, said: 'I can sit and have a meal at work with 30 blokes and it's never part of the conversation. It's not going to happen, so nobody is very interested.'

Like Kevin, most people in the town, when asked to name someone out of work, stare back blankly. In the week that the nation's unemployment total topped three million - 10.5 per cent of the workforce - Settle's tally rose to 4.5 per cent. Officially there are now 410 jobless people in the town and its catchment area, making it proportionately - after the Shetland Islands and Aberdeen - the third lowest area of unemployment in the country.

Apart from tourism - the town is in the Yorkshire Dales - the area's main industries are quarrying, which takes place at about six sites, paper-making at three mills, and the creamery. Most jobs are low-paid.

Kevin Lord takes home about pounds 180 for a 55-hour week making mozzarella cheese at MD Foods where he has worked for 14 years. The creamery, with 150 staff, is the town's largest single employer. Kevin's wife, Sue, also 30, earns about pounds 60 a week after tax for her part-time jobs as a secretary at Giggleswick Grammar School and a youth worker.

Most of their pay goes on the mortgage on their three-bedroom house and themselves and their sons, Joe, four, and Sam, three. They own a car, which Sue considers a luxury. Kevin considers his CDs and bike magazines as his luxuries. Both have lived in the region all their lives.

Kevin said: 'There're always jobs advertised locally. I think if you want work around here you can find it. Because it's always been there, I've never really thought about it much. You just expect it. Everyone is happy at work, no one is very worried because no one thinks there's much chance of redundancies. I've always worked. If I'm not doing at least 55 hours a week I get bored.

'I wouldn't want to work or live anywhere else. I open my front door and there's the river, trees, and the Dales in the distance - you hardly notice the by- pass. Sometimes it's a bit boring, but it's quiet, fairly cheap and people are very friendly and relaxed. It's not like that in the South. When I was in Essex recently we went to the local pub with the people we were staying with and they didn't even know the name of the landlord.'

As soon as Kevin gets his HGV licence he intends to leave the creamery and take over his father's road haulage business.

Sue is also confident about the future. She gave up a job at the school to have the two boys but hopes to go back to full-time work in about a year. 'I feel secure about work. You have to do long hours around here because wages are not high, but I have no fears about unemployment because there are plenty of jobs locally.'

Walking around the town, past the gift shops, cafes and estate agents, there are no obvious signs of recession. The scenic Settle-to- Carlisle rail route through the heather and uplands, which includes the Ribbleshead viaduct, has become even more popular since it was threatened with closure. Walkers, cavers and day- trippers pack the town in summer. Residents still regard most local unemployed people as loafers.

However, traders have begun to notice a change in their fortunes. Carole Riley, general manager of the Falcon Manor hotel, where two people have recently been made redundant, said: 'People are spending less - where someone used to stay for two nights, now they will stay for one. People locally are now talking about the recession and saying there is a problem, which is the first time it's been mentioned in years. But I still think unless you are looking for something high-powered there are lots of jobs in the area. Most people around here who have not got work are simply unemployable.'

The high level of employment is partly due to the shortage of local labour. Many houses have been bought as retirement or holiday homes, pushing up prices and forcing out young couples who cannot afford large mortgages. Flats start at about pounds 40,000 and a three-bedroom terrace house at about pounds 70,000.

The papermills, which employ about 120 people, have to seek staff from neighbouring towns. There are usually about six vacancies, but there is now a short waiting list. It includes haulage drivers who have been put on short time by the quarries because demand for building material has declined.

A local company director said: 'For a long time there's been a feeling of security and an attitude of 'I'm doing very nicely thank you', but it can't last forever. The recession is beginning to filter through.' He added: 'There're also some younger people in Settle who don't seem to want work.'

Simon Lemas, 20, disagrees. After several bar jobs in places near Settle he decided to return to the town 15 months ago to do conservation work. He has been unemployed since. 'At the moment I would do anything as long as it pays wages,' he said.

David Goodwin, 17, who has been jobless for eight months since leaving school, predicted: 'If you come back here in a year's time things will have changed - there are going to be a lot more people like me.'

(Photograph omitted)

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