UKIP once pledged to turn London's Circle Line back into a circle. Here’s why it’s a bad idea

These are good, British shapes. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Today marks the start of UKIP’s annual conference. There are still a few loony lefty idiots out there who'd have you believe that Nigel Farage's UKIP is all lukewarm beer and genteel bigotry. Should you be one of those narrow-minded, liberal (and, frankly, bigoted) fools, here's an extract from documents accompanying the party's 2010 manifesto which shows that there's so much more to the party than that. (We’ve taken it from The Guardian, because the original document has mysteriously been removed.)

"Ukip will return London's Circle line to a circle – the complete circular service recently stopped. We will build grade-separated junctions to improve the number of trains and their reliability at Edgware Road, Gloucester Road and Aldgate."

See? They have actual transport policies, too, you racist.

In fairness, you can sort of see why this idea might have some appeal. Once upon a time, Circle line trains did exactly what you'd expect them to do: go round and round a loop enclosing much of central London (it's the yellow one):

Since December 2009, though, the line hasn't been a circle at all, but a sort of spiral, beginning at Hammersmith and going once round the loop before giving up at Edgware Road.

This throws up all sorts of irritating anomalies. It means the same train will stop at Paddington twice, 65 minutes apart, but on two different platforms. It means that the train will terminate at Edgware Road and reverse, but only the second time it gets there. And it means that there is no way to travel from the north side of the route to the west without changing trains at that very station.

Worst of all, it means it's called the Circle Line and it's not even a little bit like a circle. And that's just really irritating, in the same way as when someone leaves a cupboard door slightly open in your eye-line when you're trying to watch television, or when someone arranges all their books by order of colour. It just feels wrong.

So, bringing the circle back would be good, right?

Sadly, as with so many UKIP ideas, it all falls apart the moment you start thinking about it. The new service pattern was introduced for two reasons. Partly it was to increase the number of trains on the Hammersmith branch; but partly, it was because the old service pattern required trains to cross each other's paths at three different points. That places a limit on how frequently trains can run (sometimes, there’ll be another train in the way). Worse, it means that a delay on one bit of the line quickly has a knock on effect right across this bit of the network.

UKIP clearly know this – hence the promise to create "grade separated junctions" at the three pinch points. That'd mean creating new tracks travelling either under or over the existing ones, so that trains no longer have to cross each other's paths.

In other words, UKIP’s promise was a commitment to spend a lot of money on tunnelling, which might require paying compensation to those who own the properties above, would certainly mean moving a lot of utility pipes, and might not actually be possible at all – and all for no other reason than that it’s mildly annoying to have a line called the Circle line that isn't actually a circle.

Alas for fans of policy-making-through-OCD, Nigel Farage later described his party's 2010 manifesto as "nonsense", adding: "I didn't read it. It was drivel." Tragically, it seems the Circle line may never be a circle again.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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“One of the greatest opportunities facing our region”: Andy Burnham on making work better for older people

Andy Burnham (then health secretary) and Gordon Brown (then prime minister) meeting an older voter in 2010. Image: Getty.

In the Greater Manchester Strategy, published by the Combined Authority in October, we set out our vision for Greater Manchester, including our ambitions for employment.

It’s not simply about getting more people into work – though this is important, given that our employment rate across the region is still below the national average. It’s also about improving the quality of work; creating better jobs with opportunities for people to progress and develop. That’s why we’re working towards a Good Employer Charter to encourage businesses across the region to step up.

But if we want to make a real difference for the people of Greater Manchester, we need to focus on those who currently struggle most to find a job, including people with disabilities, people with fewer qualifications – and older people.

One in three people aged between 50 and 64 in the Greater Manchester area are out of work. Adding in older workers on low pay, nearly half (46.3 per cent) of 50-64 year olds in Greater Manchester are either out of work or in low paid, low quality jobs. This is a bad situation at any age – in your 50s, with fewer chances to get back into work and less time to make up the shortfall in income and savings, it’s terrible.

It’s also bad for the region. People out of work are more likely to have or develop health problems, and need more care and support from our public services. We are also missing out on the skills and experience of thousands of residents. If Greater Manchester’s employment rate for 50-64 year olds matched the UK average, there would be 19,000 more people in work – earning, spending and paying into the local economy. GVA in the region could grow by £800m pa if we achieved this. 

If it’s bad now, it’s only going to get worse unless we act. This is the fastest growing age group among working age people in Greater Manchester. And with the rise in State Pension Age, we are no longer talking about 50-64 year olds, but 50-65, 66 and eventually 67. There are more older workers, and we are working for longer. Many of us are now expecting to work into our 70s to be able to earn enough for our later lives.

As the State Pension age rises, older people without decent work must struggle for longer without an income before they can draw their pension. But if we approach this right, we can improve people’s lives and benefit our local economy at the same time. It makes financial and social sense.

Older people bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the workplace, but we must make sure we provide a work environment that enables them to flourish. If we can help them get into good quality, suitable work, older people will be able to retain their financial independence and continue contributing to the region’s economy.

A report published earlier this week by the Centre for Ageing Better looks at exactly this issue. Part of our strategic partnership with the Centre for Ageing Better, the report is based on research conducted over six months with older residents in five communities with high levels of economic disadvantage across Greater Manchester.

In Brinnington, Stockport, the team met Adrian, in his late 50s. Adrian is a trained electrician, but since being made redundant ten years ago, has only managed to get a few short-term contracts. These short term, zero hours contracts, are “more trouble than they’re worth” and have left Adrian stressed and worse-off financially.

He has been sent on a large number of employment-related courses by JobCentre Plus, and has a CV with two pages listing training he has completed. However, these courses were of little interest to him and did not relate to his aim of finding stable work as an electrician. He told the team he only attended most of the courses so he “doesn’t get in trouble”.

Adrian recognises there are other types of work available, but much of it is warehouse based and as he is not in the best physical health he does not feel this work is suitable. He said he has “given up” on finding work – even though he still has 8 or 9 years to go until State Pension age.

Adrian’s story shows how badly the system is failing people like him – highly skilled, in a trade that’s in high demand, but being put through the motions of support in ways that make no sense for him.

A major finding of the report was the high number of people in this age group who had both caring responsibilities and their own health problems. With the need to manage their own health, and the high cost of paying for care, people found that they were not better off in low paid work. Several people shared stories of the complexity of coming off income support to take up temporary work and how this left them worse off financially – in some cases in severe debt.

The report concludes that changes are needed at every level to tackle chronic worklessness amongst this age group. This is not something that employment and skills services alone can fix, although Adrian’s story shows they can be much better at dealing with people as individuals, and this is something we want to do more on in Greater Manchester. But the health and benefits systems need to work in sync with employment support, and this is a national as well as a local issue.

Employers too need to do more to support older workers and prevent them from falling out of the labour market in the first place. This means more flexible working arrangements to accommodate common challenges such as health issues or caring responsibilities, and ensuring recruitment and other processes don’t discriminate against this age group.  

Greater Manchester has been at the forefront of devolution and has been using its powers to bring together health, skills and employment support to improve the lives of local people. The Working Well programme is a perfect example of this, providing integrated and personalised support to over 18,000 people, and delivering fantastic outcomes and value for money.

Such an approach could clearly be expanded even further to include the needs of older people. Ageing Better’s report shows that more can and needs to be done, and we will use their insights as we prepare our age-friendly strategy for Greater Manchester

We have to act now. In 20 years’ time, over a third of the population of Greater Manchester will be over 50. Making work better for all of us as we age is one of the greatest economic and social opportunities facing our city region.

Andy Burnham is the mayor of Greater Manchester.

For more about the work of Greater Manchester Combined Authority and its Ageing Hub, click here.