Those of you with a long memory will remember the terrible recession of the early 1980s. It wrecked whole swathes of British industry and was caused by a government intent on destroying inflation and the power of the unions at almost any cost.
Having thrown millions on the scrapheap of unemployment, the Conservative government of the time then had the cheek to blame the jobless for their own predicament. They were told to “get on their bikes and look for work”, and informed that they didn’t have a job because they were “lazy” or “feckless”, or because benefits were far too generous.
Even then, it seemed pretty daft that to say that millions of people thrown out of work in a deep, long, government-created recession had all suddenly become idle and indolent overnight. Surely high unemployment was caused by a weak economy creating job losses, not by millions of people deciding they preferred lying on the sofa watching Going For Gold and queueing for a pittance each week to earning good pay and having a career.
Now the idea that unemployment is caused by lazy people rather than politically-created recessions is once again government policy.
The latest jobless figures show that employment is still at below pre-Covid levels while unemployment is rising. The Office for National Statistics today announced employment in the UK fell slightly to 75.7% between June and August. Meanwhile, unemployment has risen slightly to 4.2% between June and August.
This has probably been caused by two factors: a pathetically low growth rate and the aftereffects of Covid, which have changed the ability of people to take on full-time work.
Yet we have government ministers accusing the unemployed of making “lifestyle choices” to stay at home for a “life on benefits”.
These are the same benefits that have been cut time and again, the same benefits that many people find it is impossible to live on. If this is a lifestyle choice increasingly made by millions of people, it is a very, very stupid lifestyle choice. But of course it isn’t.
After all the system has been made worse, less generous, and nastier exactly because the members of the Tory government want to make benefits less attractive and force people to take any job going.
We have come a long way from the idea of the Welfare State covering everyone from the cradle to the grave. Somehow that was fully affordable in the 40 years after the end of the second world war, but now after 40 years of Thatcherite economic miracles, it no longer is. Strange, isn’t it?
A government that cannot even admit that its own policies and the pathetic level of growth that it has overseen increase unemployment is not going to find the right answers to the problem. Better training, more investment, an industrial policy, rejoining the EU and a dozen other policies would help to create jobs, qualify people for the work available and help grow the economy.
But all that takes time, effort and well-thought-out policies, none of which this government seems to have.
So just like in the 1980s, it will find increasingly large numbers of people to blame, the ones suffering most from its policies.
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