404 Recovery Not Found? Oldham and Tameside Dogged By Low Wages

Boroughs bottom and second bottom for full time wages in Greater Manchester

Ashton Market (from Bow Street)
Though Tameside is second bottom throughout Greater Manchester, the figures only reflect the local labour market. Residents in Tameside are just as likely to work in surrounding areas, particularly Manchester, Oldham and Stockport.

ONS figures up to April 2013 show Oldham and Tameside boroughs as having the lowest and second lowest full time wages in Greater Manchester.

The average full time weekly wage in Oldham is £412, compared with £413 on the other side of the River Medlock bridge. Glossopians in part time positions are likely to earn less than their counterparts on the other side of the River Etherow. The average weekly part time wage is £141.

Greater Manchester and High Peak average weekly wages (areas east of the M60 motorway in bold type):

Borough Full Time (£) Part Time (£)
High Peak

It is simplistic to suggest that the above figures best represent averages earned by each resident in their respective boroughs. A great many people travel from outer parts of Greater Manchester and the High Peak travel further than their locality. They are just as likely to travel to central Manchester and Salford. Not only because the wages are higher, but more because of Central Manchester’s economy. A fair proportion of skilled jobs are inside the M60 motorway. Trafford is also a popular employment area thanks to its pioneering industrial estate, The Trafford Centre and links with the Cheshire stockbroker belt. The previous point is also true with Stockport which has inter-city rail links superior to many other medium sized towns.

Average weekly wages by constituencies east of the M60 motorway:

Constituency Full Time (£) Part Time (£)
Cheadle (Mark Hunter, Liberal Democrats)
Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunnell, Liberal Democrats)
High Peak (Andrew Bingham, Conservative)
Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams, Labour)
Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin, Labour)
Rochdale (Simon Danczuk, Labour)
Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne, Labour)
Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds, Labour)
Ashton-under-Lyne (David Heyes, Labour)
Oldham West and Royton (Michael Meacher, Labour)

From the above figures, the top three constituencies are held by Liberal Democrat or Conservative MPs. By breaking the figures down to constituency basis, we have a better understanding of local economies than we would by borough council. Party to why people working in the Oldham Council area has the lowest wages in Greater Manchester is a £73.20 gap between the median wages in Oldham East and Saddleworth and the bottom constituency, Oldham West and Royton.

What could be driving down wages in our area east of the M60 motorway?

Over the last 30 years, a fair amount of skilled manufacturing positions have disappeared, which has had an affect on our economy. We have seen the loss of Ferranti and BAE Systems for instance. Some positions have moved abroad or to other parts of the United Kingdom which have reduced our area’s skills base. It has also meant the loss of a number of well paid positions.

In more recent times, public sector job cuts and the replacement of salaried staff with Workfare participants have exacerbated this, along with zero hour contracts. Some retailers have found ‘work for your dole’ type schemes ‘a nice little earner’ for themselves, hence the lack of seasonal positions.

Why are so many discount shops in our small and medium sized towns?

Necessity. If you wander around our shopping centres from Littleborough to Cheadle and New Mills, you will find that single price retailers and discount stores are prevalent in some areas. As a number of skilled positions have been taken over by the service industry, such roles may be part time and poorly paid. As a consequence, their spending power is reduced, hence the need for such stores.

But poverty’s not the only answer…

Very true; some chain stores have left for out of town locations, with lower rents per square feet and expanded retail space. Therefore, town centre rents fall as the chain stores find the town centre units limiting. Though good for independent retailers, in theory, discount stores, takeaways, payday loan shops and charity shops take over.

What is being done to make our areas more prosperous?

The driver for any change has come from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and other local public sector bodies. This, along with other projects in the area have come about from over 20 years planning and development, some of which via the defunct Greater Manchester County Council and recently defunct North West Development Agency.

They say the economy’s booming. Where’s the evidence of this in Stockport, Tameside, Oldham and Rochdale?

At best, our economy seems to be flatlining. The average citizen east of the M60 motorway has seen their wages fall, public services cut and more empty shop units in the last three years. More money is being taken out of our area than being put in, through cuts in Social Security benefits, plus London and South East biased local government funding. Without central Manchester as an economic driver, the repercussions in our area could be worse.

*                             *                             *

All of the above leads us to this conclusion: the supposed recovery has yet to arrive in Oldham and Tameside. Uncertainty has made Workfare a popular alternative to hiring salaried staff for some employers. That option along with zero hours contracts makes for a lose-lose situation for employees or trainees . As with part time employees, a loss of spending power, plus Social Security benefits and, possibly payday loans forming part of their weekly income.

Her Majesty’s Government loses out by subsidising skinflint employers; districts lose out as shops shut or see a reduction in the quality of their retail offerings. With an ideologically shrunken public sector, job security falls as does the number of skilled positions. Wages are depressed as older staff are replaced by younger members at reduced pay rates.

If we are paid properly, it helps the United Kingdom as a whole through higher income tax receipts. Perhaps our town centres may spring to life.

Her Majesty’s Government along with local government should help rather than hinder. Present company, at least with Northern England, unequivocally seems to favours the latter. It doesn’t believe in expanding the knowledge based economy outside of London, Cambridge and Oxford.

We also need radical legislation against stingy employers. The National Minimum Wage should be equal to a Living Wage. Workers’ rights should be available from day one. Zero hour contracts should be banned. Wages Councils should be reinstated in full, including the recently disbanded Agricultural Wages Board.

Then our recovery could be found. This is how we could make work pay.

S.V., 12 December 2013.


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