Opinion: Why Britain’s not working.
Sitting down with a cup of tea, flicking through TV channels showing programmes about infidelity, paternity tests, teenage parents and unemployed ex-convicts – a typical lunchtime for most students. In fact, that is exactly what I was doing when I stumbled across a news report stating that the number of adults who have never worked is higher than it as ever been. Well, since records began 16 years ago. Flicking back to Jeremy Kyle, I realised that I was not entirely surprised.
If we were to rewind 100 years, we would find an entirely different picture – not least because television did not exist. During the First World War, everyone was expected to work. Men were conscripted, women went to work in munitions factories alongside skilled men in reserved occupations, and children were sent down mines for the good of the country. Funnily enough, there were no companies being sued for unfair management, sexual harassment or bad working conditions, and ‘tea breaks’ were literally just long enough to have a cup of tea.
Fast forward to yesterday’s report from the Office of National Statistics showing that no adult in 370,000 households nationwide has ever worked: an increase of 18,000 since last year. Of course, the default reaction is to blame the government and immediately assume that Cameron and his team of Tories are to blame for Britain’s unemployment woes. All of a sudden, people are having nightmares about picket lines and oversubscribed job centres. However, if you take into account the fact that a household is defined as having ‘never worked’ if no one aged 16 or more is in employment, we have a slightly different picture.
In an interview last April, David Cameron said: “For youth unemployment, which has actually been going up for years in our country, the real change we need is actually in our education system to make sure we are producing young people at the age of 18 with a real qualification that people need in the modern workplace”.
Figures released in June 2010 showed that the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds at school, college or in training reached its highest ever level. Looking at this, it is perhaps understandable that people who are undertaking full time education will not have time to work, or will choose not to so they can concentrate on their studies. At my school, we were discouraged from undertaking more than 7 hours’ work per week so that we did not compromise our education.
Of course, full time education to the age of 18 will become compulsory by 2013, whether you are undertaking a vocational course or studying for A-levels, so expect that ‘unemployment’ figure to keep rising.
So, that is a fair amount of this figure accounted for – but obviously the nation is not made up completely of teenagers – there are old people, too. In 2008, there were more pensioners than people under 16 in the UK - again, an age group which is not mentioned and which somewhat alters the statistics.
As with every financial crisis to ever hit Britain, the banks have to take a fair share of the blame. Lending money to consumers who are not able to pay it back has led to the government having to make cuts in public sector jobs. Some people are finding themselves being replaced by workers in company branches overseas; sometimes they are even replaced by machines in order to cut expenses.
While public sector salaries are being frozen, economic growth is greatly struggling, VAT is rising and banks are still failing to lend properly, this hardly seems the time to be raising interest rates in response to a supposed “wage-led inflationary spiral”, despite what some are suggesting. The theory goes that if the government and the banks are allowed to continue making cuts and keeping inflation high, it will devalue the debt of the country and make it easier to pay off. To me, this does not seem plausible, but then again, I do not study economics.
With employment cuts across all lines of work, from defence to manufacturing, the people who were once occupying these jobs are struggling to even find part-time work elsewhere and are in direct competition with recent graduates. It is perhaps little wonder that people who had limited job prospects in the first place are struggling to find somewhere to work in the current climate – but that is not to say that there are no jobs available.
In the wake of last month’s riots, these figures throw a rather harsh light on a situation which has been comfortably ignored for the past decade. The children of Blair have been brought up in a society where their homes have been micromanaged and common sense is no longer common place. The government has been so soft on people claiming Unemployment Benefits – sorry, Jobseekers’ Allowance – that now there is a mentality that you may as well not work for the money you get – it’ll just be handed to you anyway. Youths are brought up believing that the world owes them something just for being born. I’m sure many of you saw the girl during the riots claiming she was ‘taking back her taxes’ by looting – although I very much doubt she has ever worked a day in her life.
I have met people who have purposefully got pregnant so they can go into council houses and get Child Benefits; I even know one man who broke his own legs just so he could get Disability Living Allowance. This is what the country has become; people will go to really drastic measures purely to avoid lifting a finger.
We are now in a situation where unemployment is a fashion statement – a middle finger to the government which is seen to be responsible for all this. Scrubbing toilets is something which is considered an unacceptable way to earn money – yet, as soon as a ‘foreigner’ comes in and is willing to do it, they stand accused of ‘stealing all our jobs’.
The solution is not unmanageable. Leaving the European Union would free up billions in revenue which could be used to create more public sector jobs, even if they only pay minimum wage. In 2007, the UK was paying around £12bn every year to remain in the EU, a figure which has since increased.
Another way to help the issue would be to deport all illegal immigrants, and to put a cap on legal migration as we simply cannot afford housing for these volumes of people. Skilled migrants ought to have priority, as they do in Australia, thus ensuring that everyone entering the UK will indeed be contributing to the economy. All people on Jobseekers’ Allowance should then be fully reassessed to ensure that everyone who can work is working and not wasting government funding. Last year, the government forked out £6.6bn on Unemployment Benefits and a further £1.3bn on housing. In 2009, only £4.8bn was spent on unemployment, but the estimate for this year is around £6.7bn.
Cameron’s lavish spending on overseas charities has also caused him to be put under public scrutiny. This year he pledged £814m of taxpayers’ money to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, run by Bill Gates, bringing the UK’s total contribution to £1.5bn.
However, since the logical resolutions are seldom the ones that are used, here we are. The government is paying out more money than it can afford; people are being made redundant, which drains even more resources through benefits; we are pumping funds into the EU for little perceived return; graduates cannot find work; youth unemployment is at a record high, and people are breeding work-shy children who would rather be arrested for rioting than go to work and earn money to buy things. This is what Cameron meant by ‘broken Britain’ – and, actually, he was right.