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Page last updated at 07:29 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009
Face of the recession

By Sanchia Berg
Today programme

This is the worst recession in Britain for nearly three decades. Not since early 1980s, has the economy contracted so sharply.

So what do veterans of that recession make of what's happening now?

1980 unemployment
Unemployment demonstration in Liverpool in 1980
Half of the 2,001,208 were under the age of 24
On Merseyside, the unemployment total reached 102,894 in 1980
On Merseyside, 17,000 unemployed were this year's school leavers
One in 10 of the workforce was idle in the North, the North-west, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
In 1980, Bob Young was a specialist foreman at the Hotpoint plant in Swinton, near Mexborough in South Yorkshire. He'd worked there for 19 years: his wife Mary and teenage daughter Tina had jobs there too. In July, all three were made redundant on the same day.

Nine months later, as the recession deepened, BBC One ran a series of long interviews with "ordinary people" to show the human consequences of the crisis.

Bob Young was one of the guests. Looking slightly awkward in a three piece houndstooth suit, he spoke eloquently, with dignity. He explained how he'd applied for every full time job at his local jobcentre.

"I've applied for ambulance driving, for a fitter's mate, a painter's mate, insurance collector...you name it, I've applied for it," he told the interviewer, Bob Wellings.

"There are some people who say we sit back on our laurels and have a rest for three months. I didn't. I went straight in, and looked for a job."

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1981: I'm chasing myself round in circles

He described how he got up early every day, and headed over to the Job Centre. He'd meet, he said, about 50 or 60 of his friends and former colleagues on the way. They'd wave and in a friendly tone shout there was nothing new - but he'd still go and have a look.

He spoke for millions then, when he talked of the effect of sudden redundancy on his self confidence.

"I haven't got the same tenacity, the same drive. It seems as though I'm chasing myself round in circles trying to find out where I've gone wrong. Have I done something wrong? Is it the government's fault? Is it my fault? I don't know. I just can't realise in my own mind whose fault it is."

That resonated. The interview even appeared - fleetingly - in the TV Series Boys From The Blackstuff.

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2009: All of a sudden, bang. It's all gone

Today, Bob Young and his wife Mary still live in Swinton - in a small bungalow instead of the larger family home. He never found another job.

Instead, he went into business with his brother, selling supplies to market traders all round the country. It was hard work: he travelled round 20 markets a week, driving about a 1,000 miles.

But he managed to build up the business to earn himself a decent living, to "build back up" to what the family had before. And he was never forced to give up his family home, a terraced house he'd worked on for years. Instead, he chose to sell it when he retired.

Bob Young is dismayed to see the UK in recession once again.
They'll be the same as I was, wondering whether they're going to get another job and wondering whether everything will work out
Bob Young

"Watching the television nowadays and watching all this unemployment happen again it just seems like somebody's got the hiccups...I feel very, very sorry for the people who are going to be made unemployed.

"And they'll be the same as I was, wondering whether they're going to get another job and wondering whether everything will work out."

His daughter Tina, made redundant on the same day in July 1980, is now a mother of five. She's anxious for her own children, and for others of their age. Her voice trembles as she speaks of "the younger ones" and their expectations.

"They've had it so good. I do worry about them. They don't think they have - but they have. You help them as much as you can, but you can't keep them, can you? They're in their own homes, you can't pay their mortgage."

Bob Young agrees it will be harder this time, because people are used to having plenty of spending money, a secure home, a secure job.

"And then all of a sudden - bang, it's all gone. All gone again."

But he hopes some at least will gain from the experience of his generation: "Some of them, those about 45, they'll be looking back and saying, 'Ooh, I remember it happened in 1980. My dad went through this. My dad got through it, so I'm sure I can'."


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