Here’s a subject that hasn’t been treated with too much seriousness in the last thirty years: unemployment. Time was when governments were committed to full employment, and the idea of a million out of work was seen as a Very Bad Thing. Well, we haven’t seen unemployment of below a million since the 1970s: it’s now at over 2.3 million. And rising.
For those of us in the freelance world – that’s otherwise known as Tony and Gordon’s “flexible labour market” – it’s an occupational hazard, although at present, as an agency put it to me last week, there are a lot of people around who are spending too much time on the bench. Freelance workers use the time to take a break, do holidays, brush up on skills – but for those who get dumped out of longer term permanent jobs, it’s all too easy for economic recession to cause heads to drop, and hopes sink.
Should we bother? I would argue that we should. Too much unemployment, for too long, means more folks – and often whole families - existing on benefits. With no prospect of bettering themselves, the temptation of involvement in money generating activities that fall outside the law is strong. And there is plenty of scope for this: robbery, car crime, drug dealing, gun running, smuggling, people trafficking and prostitution are all well established – some disciplines working in tandem.
Also, it’s not exactly in the interest of the Government to be carrying an army of unemployment: every increase in the jobless figure means the plus of tax revenue turns overnight into the potential minus of benefit payments – and this when the UK’s debt level is increasing.
Will this or any future Government take action? Specifically on unemployment, the perhaps dispiriting response is, not much. Labour, seemingly, relied on growth in the wider economy from the late 1990s to bring down jobless levels – effectively no different from the philosophy of the preceding Tory administration. Otherwise, both parties are all talk, the prime example being Young Dave telling of “broken Britain”. If people had jobs to go to, it wouldn’t be broken – but, unless the Tories are seriously considering getting them into work, any impression given that they will “mend” our “broken society” is so much hot air.
I’m not suggesting we adopt Keynes’ idea of stuffing banknotes into disused mineshafts, digging them up again and then spending them, but there are ways of getting folks to work and, most importantly, off benefits - and weaned off routine criminality.
I’ll revisit the land of the unemployed later.