Benjamin Kelly and Harry Murray, residents of Jaywick on the north-east Essex coast. Though Harry has just got a job as a lifeguard, Benjamin is unemployed. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian
Angela Pace has been sending out dozens of job applications a week, with little luck. So far, she says, she has not even been invited to an interview. The 17-year-old finished secondary school two years ago with a clutch of GCSEs and had wanted to become a plumber. Unable to get on a vocational course or apprenticeship, she drifted aimlessly – until her mother threw her out.
"Mum told me to leave. I have three younger brother and sisters and she had to look after us all. She didn't work. It was too much of a struggle. She said: 'Get yourself a job and get on with your life.' But you cannot get a job without experience and you cannot get experience without a job." (...)
According to data collected for the Commission on Youth Unemployment, chaired by the Labour MP David Miliband, in the Golf Green area a third of 16- to 24-year-olds claim jobseeker's allowance, earning this desolate collection of homes laid out in tight rows the dubious honour of the nation's youth unemployment hotspot. Nationally, the figure is just 6%.
The report, produced by Acevo, which represents the biggest charities in Britain, says that "youth unemployment has reached emergency point" with one in five young people not in employment, education or training (neet). A quarter of a million have been unemployed for more than a year. (...)
Many youth unemployment hotspots identified by the commission are in former coal mining areas in south Wales or where heavy industry collapsed in the north-east of England. What Jaywick shares with these areas is simple: there aren't any jobs.
There hasn't been a big local employer on this part of the Essex coast since Butlin's holiday camp closed down in 1983. Most of the work around today is seasonal – in the funparks or caravan sites that dot the coast. Geography doesn't help. The nearest big town, Colchester, is about 17 miles away. (...)
Ask Diane Boyd, the manager of a local charity, Signpost, helping young people find employment in Golf Green, what type of jobs young people do get and she's quick to reply: lifeguards. "I have got three interviews for the first five young people who did a week-long intensive lifeguard course. One of them is for Ipswich swimming pool. That's 40 miles away. Word spreads quickly, though – now I have 26 people applying to do the course."
Signpost operates out of a small community centre in Brooklands on the fringes of Golf Green. Under a bright yellow sign carrying the incongruously optimistic slogan "A smiling face makes this a happy place", sit Benjamin Kelly, 19, and Harry Murray, 16. Harry's one of the lucky trio to get an interview as a life-guard. "I will be very happy if I get the job. I'd rather be a mechanic but you've got no choice these days."
Kelly has tried his hand at a variety of roles: mechanic, bricklayer, painter and chef – picking up a variety of qualifications along the way. Worldly wise, he has steered away from the temptations of drink and drugs that dull the expectations of many Jaywick youth. "I know there are plenty of people who will rob to get that next fix or smoke the day away. But that's a total waste."
In the past, Kelly could work on building sites "for cash" but that's no longer possible as no one now is hired without a health and safety card. He would rather not be "exploited" by unscrupulous cafe owners who offer him £30 for a 10-hour shift on the seafront. Because he's been unemployed for almost nine months, Kelly has to do a placement with the government's Work Programme.
"If I don't go on the [Work Programme] I lose my benefits. I don't mind if it gets me a job. I want to work. When I was a chef, I was on £200 or £300 a week. On jobseeker's allowance I get £50 a week. That's not enough money to live on."