Manchester is desperate for workers. There are 40,000 jobs advertised in the city at the moment, at every pay grade. Ann Summers wants a stockroom assistant (£10.70 an hour), or you could invigilate exams at £14 an hour or post videos on TikTok for £20 an hour. Sellcheck Chemicals is offering up to £75,000 a year for a sales manager (‘No biology background needed, no previous experience necessary’). Even the army is offering trainee officers £34,000 after their first year. But ask any employer in the city what it’s like hiring and they’ll tell you: it’s a battle.
What’s strange about this is the fact that though all these jobs are on offer, unemployed Mancunians don’t seem to want them. Figures published last week show that 18 per cent of Manchester’s adults are claiming out-of-work benefits. Some 120,000 have reported as long-term sick. Welfare dysfunction has created a huge hole in the workforce.
It’s the same story in city after city. Somehow, the UK has managed to combine mass joblessness with a worker shortage. Almost one in five working-age people in Birmingham are on out-of-work benefits, and it’s the same story in Glasgow and Liverpool. In Blackpool, the number is closer to one in four. This is a huge waste of lives, leaving aside the issue of taxpayers’ money.
Though Rishi Sunak promises welfare reform, it’s not clear how he intends to deal with a problem of this size. His officials have warned him that things are set to get much worse. There are 5,000 claims per day for sickness benefits, many on the grounds of poor mental health – almost twice the
pre-pandemic rate. No one expects that rate to start slowing. Internal government forecasts now envisage the welfare caseload rising for five years, with the number on disability benefits surging by a third to 3.7