Tumbling mortgage rates, food deflation and lower energy bills – sighs of relief all round. But just when we thought the recession was beginning to ease, Britain has been dealt another blow.

According to figures released last month, total unemployment in the UK has climbed to 2.4 million – the highest level since 1995.

With almost a million working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job, the real impact of the recession on employment is probably a lot worse than the figure suggests.

Economists described it as “pretty horrible”. I’d say it was potentially catastrophic and it’s only going to get worse. Pick up the paper and there’s news of more redundancies. Only last week, oil giant Shell announced 3,200 job losses in an attempt to cut costs. The week before Network Rail shed 2,500 jobs.

As a retailer, we’re lucky enough to provide a haven – after all, people will always need to eat – but other industries such as manufacturing and construction have buckled.

Take Hull for example. Famous for its manufacturing plants, fishing and caravanning industries, Hull’s job market has been hit hard, resulting in the city emerging as one of the worst affected by unemployment in the UK.

But what’s more worrying is that it’s not just the older generation that is being left on the scrap heap. The main victims are the young and unskilled, who are often the first to lose their jobs during hard times. Statistics show that one in every three people aged between 16 and 18, and one in every six aged between 16 and 24, are out of work.

It’s a climate of fear and uncertainty, and one that needs to be overcome if we want to rebuild Britain’s future.

But there is a glimmer of good news in among the gloom – the grim outlook has been recognised and people, businesses and the Government are starting to take action.

The Sun’s campaign to get Britain back to work has seen enormous success, including their first recruit who went on to become a warehouse worker at Asda.

We’re also proud to be one of 150 employers supporting the Government’s Backing Young Britain campaign to encourage greater work experience and internships to help youth employment.

In fact, young people play a huge part in our business. 22% of our workforce is aged between 16 and 25. We recruit 9,000 seasonal colleagues every year and 73% are aged between 16 and 24. What’s more, we’re one of the only UK retailers to offer the same rate of pay to under-18s.

Retail jobs are real jobs. Whether you’re 18 or 60, a job in retail will contribute to an area’s economic well-being and can lead to career opportunities with eye-opening salaries.

So my plea to you is give young people a chance. By creating opportunities for them to develop new skills and experience, and getting them into work we’re helping secure our economic future for generations to come.

If we don’t, it will be the very generation of young people who we should be recognising and celebrating that will suffer most.

➤ Andy Clarke is chief operating officer of Asda

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