What the Wrexham 99p store riot and Esther McVey’s “get a job in Costa” dismissal say about our economy

To suggest that there are lazy youngsters out of work who could easily walk into job serving lattes all day is just far-fetched

Share

Grabbing a coffee on the way to work is part of our 21st-century lives. We are never far from a Starbucks, a Caffè Nero or a Costa Coffee. It is hard to imagine our high streets without them. So it follows that there should be plenty of jobs for would-be baristas, right? This is what Esther McVey, the Employment minister, is suggesting when she says that young people out of work should be prepared to take a position in a coffee outlet if they can’t get the job they want.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, she said young people should be prepared to take entry-level jobs: “You could be working at Costa.” From there, careers in hospitality would open up and the next thing you know, she says, you’re running a hotel in Dubai. Failing that, why not start a business from your bedroom, via the internet? The minister makes it sound so easy.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the economy. Figures out yesterday show that the number of people in work is the highest ever, at 30.15 million. But youth unemployment remains stubbornly high – long-term joblessness is at its highest rate for 30 years. So McVey is guilty of a dreadful over-simplification of the reality facing young people.

If only there were the vacancies for what are, after all, not unpleasant jobs. Despite the ubiquity of coffee chains, 1,700 people applied for eight jobs at a Costa Coffee in Nottingham last year. When even graduates are offered low-paid jobs on zero-hours contracts and unsociable hours, the picture is not as rosy as 30 million in work would suggest. For those without a degree, it is even harder. McVey, echoing the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, in her speech earlier this week, is right to point out that low-skilled young people need to have a basic level of qualification in English and maths. But to suggest that there are lazy youngsters out of work who could easily walk into job serving lattes all day is just far-fetched.

Britain may be technically enjoying economic growth but, in some areas of the country away from Westminster, the recession is still clear and present: in Liverpool, where McVey and I are both from; in Nottingham, where people fought over those jobs at Costa; and in Wrexham, where this week police were called to a near-riot in a 99p store where prices had been cut to 50p. Shelves were emptied – understandably, when such bargains are on offer – and scuffles broke out when staff cancelled the discount for people still in the queue. What this episode shows us is not how badly behaved people are in Wrexham – I’d be pretty angry too if I thought I was getting a discount that was snatched away at the till – but how the popularity of stores like this is fed by the demands of people whose budgets are squeezed.

David Cameron said yesterday that after taxes people are “better off”, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies says families with children are an average of £891 worse off this year because of tax & benefit changes since 2010. There is no doubt that the economy is growing, and that George Osborne can rightly hail the upgraded growth forecast from the IMF. But times remain hard for a lot of people and, in many high streets across Britain, 99p stores, £1 shops and branches of Poundland are cropping up as much as coffee shops.

The less affluent an area becomes, the shop on your nearest corner is more likely to be a Poundstretcher rather than a Costa Coffee. Together with pawn shops, they are the high-street success story of the last decade, but this is not something Mary Portas would want to celebrate. Perhaps McVey should tell young people to go and look for jobs at a 99p store – but then that wouldn’t send the right message about our booming economy, would it.

Let’s go back to the land in ‘Countryfile’

I assumed it was a sign of getting old when I found myself enjoying Countryfile last Sunday evening. But then I read that the BBC rural affairs programme reaped 8.2 million viewers last week – and not all of them, presumably, were just waiting for the new series of Call The Midwife to begin.

Countryfile’s secret, I believe, lies in that Sunday evening formula of something cosy and not too challenging for the night before going back to work – quintessential Horlicks TV. Yet in their search for ratings, have the producers made it too easy to watch? The programme used to be about real farming issues – low crop yields and the latest sheep disease. Perhaps now it is too glamorous and dumbed down – sometimes I expect presenter Matt Baker to tell viewers “and this is a cow”. A bit like Gardeners’ World, where real horticulture has been ditched in favour of Monty Don telling  us how to wash our plant labels.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

History Teacher

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

IT Teacher

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a suitably ...

Legal Cashier - Oxford

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Legal Cashier - Oxford We have an excellent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
 

Believe me, I said, there’s nothing rural about this urban borough’s attempt at a country fair

John Walsh
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor