As the fallout from Covid unveils, new research on London’s employment shows the severe challenges facing London’s labour market – with dire warnings that one in ten Londoners will be unemployed by Xmas of this year and economic recovery only possible by 2024.

Tim Whitaker a Wise Age Trustee dissects this new evidence and starts to look at the issues and solutions for older workers in London.

The research conducted for London Councils (https://londoncouncils.gov.uk/our-key-themes/economic-development/employment-support/detailed-study-unemployment-london ) provides different forecasts about unemployment.  One “core scenario” forecast has an unemployment rate of 9.4% by December 2021 – just under half a million. But if you look at potential universal credit claimants, the numbers affected may be higher up to 671,000. London has had more of its workers furloughed than the rest of the UK which also leads to uncertainties about what will happen when this support ends.

Where you live in London will affect prospects of unemployment.  Central London Boroughs – Westminster, Southwark, Hackney, Lambeth, Camden, Haringey, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, City of London, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Wandsworth – would see the biggest rise in unemployment, to 9.3 per cent or 169,000 under this scenario. Lambeth with a forecast of 26,00 unemployed residents would be the hardest hit London Borough in absolute terms. But these Boroughs collectively would likely recover the fastest.

East London boroughs – Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Enfield, Greenwich, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Waltham Forest, and Bromley – would have persistently higher unemployment, peaking at 9.6 per cent or 133,000, but suffer with unemployment for the longest period. Waltham Forest would see the highest unemployment rate of 15 per cent.

West London Boroughs – Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon, and Hounslow – would see the highest peak at 10.4 per cent or 113,000, due to them having sectors and industries particularly impacted by Covid-19 restrictions, including Heathrow airport.

Boroughs in South London – Croydon, Kingston, Merton, Richmond, and Sutton – would see a peak of 7.6 per cent or 48,000.

Different groups will face different challenges – Age makes a difference. There’s rightly a lot of attention about younger workers with 16–24-year-olds likely to make up a third of all unemployed Londoners. But the over 50s are most at risk of what the experts are now calling “scarring”. 14,000 older workers in London may just drop out of the labour market. Plus, the evidence is that those suffering long term unemployment for more than three years notably older workers, will find employment even trickier now.

Londoners from ethnic minorities will experience higher unemployment than white Londoners. For example, ethnic minority residents in central London are twice as likely to be unemployed (14.9% compared to 6.9%). Black/Black British and Pakistani/Bangladeshi residents have been hardest hit over the past year.

Disabled Londoners also face acute challenges – with the prospect of unemployment for this group rising to 12.4 per cent, due to working in jobs vulnerable to economic cycles plus more at risk of unequal treatment in the workplace.

Male unemployment is likely to be greater than females, though pre covid evidence shows persistent inequality at work and in work poverty facing female workers which may not get solved post covid.

Qualifications and Skills are key. Workers with fewer qualifications are set to experience more than three times the unemployment rate compared to those with more qualifications. Industries with the highest numbers of furloughed workers – such as retail and accommodation and food – also have the highest proportions of workers with no qualifications. This is a problem as recovery is likely to be driven first by high skilled jobs.

This new research paints a rough but harsh picture of the economic problems ahead facing London. Despite the issues in the levelling up agenda and the image of a prosperous capital city, London’s unemployment is already higher than the average of rest of the UK. 

 London Councils responded to the report’s conclusions by emphasising the need for local solutions particularly a “local first’ approach to unemployment support. Key for them this is the need for local job centres funded by DWP to sit alongside borough services to provide a more integrated approach to employment, skills, and services.

But this research also prompts the need for a clear policy agenda to focus on older workers needs in London to ensure they don’t get left behind plus raising the issues affecting this age group with London’s decision makers.

We need much better data about what’s happening to older workers in different boroughs, particularly those most at risk or ignored to know the scale and type of problems being confronted. And we also need to know more about the experience of the economic uncertainty, job losses and other economic and social pressures older workers are facing. Targeted and bespoke programmes of employment support for older workers are urgently needed which cater in an integrated way for these specific needs – support, re-skilling, as well as core skills training. Key will be ensuring that all at risk can get the right support; don’t get ignored and don’t fall between the cracks of advice services.

Tim Whitaker

Wise Age