Industry in Crisis: Unemployment: The victim: 'Job for life' ends with humiliation and pessimism

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The Independent Online
MARTIN PURNELL joined British Aerospace as an apprentice engineer because he wanted to be a 'lifer'.

'I was 16 and had just left school. Everyone said, 'you have to get a trade'. BAe was one of the biggest employers in the area and you hardly ever heard of them making people redundant. The friends I started with, we all thought we could be there for 40 years.'

Last November, shortly after his 29th birthday, he lost his pounds 16,000-a-year electrical engineering post at BAe Dynamics in Filton, Bristol, after 12 years producing and testing Rapier and Sea Wolf missiles.

The company laid off 1,300 workers to cut costs during the recession and to adjust to the slowdown in defence spending worldwide.

Now on pounds 39-a-week income support he relies on family and friends to make ends meet. 'It's impossible. My parents and other people give me meals which saves me using the cooker and sometimes they take me out. It's embarrassing - feeling like a sponger at my age.' The 'social' pays the interest on his pounds 45,000 mortgage on his flat worth pounds 38,000. He bought it three months before he heard he would be laid off.

Losing his job was a 'terrible shock . . . I thought why me, I had a decent education, went to college? Where the hell am I going to get a job now?'

Desperate to avoid signing on, he persuaded his father to help him get a 13-week temporary assembly-line job at an air brakes manufacturer in Kingswood, Bristol. 'It was a bit of a comedown - a semi-skilled, repetitive job for less money than I would have got on the dole but at least it was work. I am not snobbish about getting my hands dirty.'

After paying off credit cards debts and settling bills with his redundancy money, he signed on in February. 'I had no money left. It was horrendously depressing. I hated admitting I was unemployed - being scrutinised by bloody bureaucrats - but it was the only way to survive.

'They asked if I was 'available for work'. I felt humiliated. I had written over 100 letters replying to adverts, going to agencies and the job centre. Not just electrical engineering jobs. I thought 'career change, start again'. I applied for work in schools, colleges and with the water board. I got four or five interviews but no offers.'

He is angry that the Government 'has done nothing to help . . . In the Eighties they said 'spend, spend, spend, buy your own home, we're on the up'. So I did. Now it's all collapsed and they don't seem to care. They've broken so many people and done nothing to repair it. They should be investing and training people.'

He is pessimistic about his prospects. 'I can't see myself getting a job. I went to the job centre last week and the noticeboard with the engineering vacancies had disappeared. There were no cards to put on it so they had taken it down. It's was like, that's it. No hope.'

(Photograph omitted)

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