Thursday, November 12, 2009
It's time Britain abolished unemployment
This article of mine appears in The First Post.
When the phrase 'Labour isn't working' was made famous by the Saatchi and Saatchi poster which helped Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives win the 1979 general election, around 1.4m Britons were out of work. Today, the official number of jobless is 2.46m. But with around 8m Britons classed as economically inactive, it’s clear that the official unemployment figures are a vast underestimate of the people who could work but who are without jobs.
Most disturbing of all is the level of youth unemployment which has risen to 19.8 per cent, an all-time record. The cost of having so many people economically inactive is enormous. In 2007, when unemployment was officially 1.7m, it was estimated that unemployment was costing the taxpayer £61bn a year in benefits and lost tax revenues.
Yet while opposition politicians are quick to condemn the situation as a 'national disgrace', the solutions they - and the government - are putting forward to solve the problem are timid. All talk of their aim to reduce unemployment. But why not do something really radical and abolish it all together?
Abolishing unemployment and guaranteeing everyone who is physically able to work in Britain a job on state-sponsored programmes, would bring substantial benefits to the economy and to society.
Instead of paying people not to work, the jobless would be employed on government projects - carrying out much needed work to improve the national infrastructure, which would add to the national wealth. Critics would no doubt say that such a scheme would cost too much money in the short-run, but the sums involved would be nowhere near the £1.2tr that the government has already spent to keep bankers in their jobs.
The government would receive tax revenues from the newly employed workers and the extra purchasing power of millions of Britons would stimulate economic growth. Not only that, there'd be other significant savings as government spending on the costs of social breakdown would be greatly reduced.
In their book Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture, Steve Hall et al describe how, after the shipbuilding yards closed down in the 1980s, neighbourhoods in Newcastle and Sunderland were transformed from 'well ordered' communities into crime-ridden sink estates plagued with social problems, including widespread drug abuse. It's a depressing pattern of social breakdown that's been repeated across Britain over the past 30 years.
Today, the problem of unemployment is affecting Britons of all social classes. The middle classes avoided the worst of the job-shedding in the Thatcher years, but now they're losing their jobs in large numbers too.
You can read the rest of the article here.