Thursday, 28 May 2015

"Two jobs" treadmill cannot be healthy for everyone

EWAN LAMB reports

A massive 42 per cent rise since 2012 in the number of Borderers working for at least two employers means the region is now clearly on top of the Scottish mainland's multiple jobs league as an increasing proportion of local people apparently struggle to earn a living wage.

The statistics which show that one in 13 people in the Scottish Borders 16-64 population bracket have a second job were published today by the SNP Government in a document titled Local Area Labour Markets in Scotland.

While the proportion of workers with two jobs in most of the rest of Scotland has been declining, the percentage in the Borders has shot up from 5.6% of the population in 2012 to 7.5% in 2014. That represents a numerical jump from 2,800 to 4,000. Ten years ago the figures were 6.1% and 3,200.

The nearest local government area in terms of second job percentages is Argyll & Bute with 5.9% (2,200 people) although that council's total is much lower than its 2004 levels of 7.7% and 3,100 workers with two jobs.

The rapid escalation in Borders numbers is also in sharp contrast with neighbouring Dumfries & Galloway - 50 per cent larger than Borders in population terms - where the 2014 percentage was 5.5% (3,600). To the north Midlothian recorded 4.3% (1,700) while another rural local authority, Perth & Kinross had second job figures of 5.6% (3,800).

The average proportion for Scotland stands at 4.1%. The statistics for the three island authorities show a much higher percentage of people doing more than one job in areas where multi-tasking has long been the norm.

There is no explanation given in the Scottish Government publication as to why the Scottish Borders is bucking the mainland trend. The region has traditionally suffered from a low-wage economy, and despite various initiatives stretching back decades earnings levels compared to the rest of the country have stayed stubbornly near the bottom of the incomes table.

An increase in the number of two-job workers of more than 40% in the space of two years would suggest new employment opportunities being created since the recession are not necessarily well paid.

Of course it could be that many hundreds of Borderers enjoy working at two part-time jobs. On the other hand it could mean a growing number of individuals are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

A recent report from the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, published in March, listed some of the economic ills facing the south of Scotland. But the report - Our Borderlands Our Future - did not refer to the issue of second jobs.

It does seem meaningful financial packages are required if the area is to attract skilled jobs with attractive financial rewards. Official figures for 2013/14 show that only £810,000 of EU structural funding found its way into the Borders by way of capital income.

A major effort is surely required by politicians and development agencies to boost investment and reverse the upward trend in those numbers who find it necessary to hold down at least two jobs.

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