2015 02 – February Editorial

Britain Needs Good Jobs.

On the back page of this issue of Labour Affairs, there is a page of job advertisements from the Oldham Chronicle for 1979. It is just one of three pages of such adverts. By 1979 the great days of industrial employment were already behind us, but the Thatcherite devastation of Britain’s mining and manufacturing and mining base had yet to occur. This was still a time when a young person with average talents and an ordinary willingness to work could count on getting a job in his or her home town. Places like Oldham were still living, thriving communities.

Thirty six years later, the position is much bleaker. Net job growth in the private sector over the past decade outside the south east has actually been negative, with one private sector job disappearing for every ten created in the south east. Even this figure makes things look rosier than they actually are. First, many of these ‘jobs’ are nominal self employment which effectively signify withdrawal from the labour market. Second, many of them are part time. Third, many are casualised agency jobs, with very poor terms and conditions.

For example, at any one time 250 of 900 jobs at Jacob’s Biscuits at Aintree are agency jobs with no holiday pay, lower hourly pay and no long term prospects. Aditya Chakrabortty, writing in the Guardian estimates that nearly half the jobs advertised last year on Merseyside were agency jobs. The economy of some post-industrial towns like Corby is dominated by agency work. We should also bear in mind that these are the parts of Britain particularly dependent on public sector employment, which is subject to a financial squeeze not seen since World War Two. It is no exaggeration to say that much of Britain (including parts of the South East) have decayed to the point that they have become places where it is not possible anymore to live a decent life.

All section of the workforce are suffering, but the prospects for young people are particularly dire The consequences of unemployment early in life are likely to be more severe and long-lasting than for people who’ve already made the transition from education and living at home to paid work and an independent life.

In a decent society, it should be taken for granted that care of the young as well as the old is one of the first duties of all members of that society.

Look what’s been done to the transition from teenage life and education to adult status and work. The Careers Service combination of careers teachers and careers officers who brokered relationships between schools and prospective employers. Since 1979 it has been gradually run down by Labour, Conservatives and the Coalition to the point where, in 2011 it effectively ceased to exist except as a tatty website. At a time when the need was never greater, our political parties deliberately destroyed an institution that was capable of at least assisting young people to make choices about their future and to find a job. The Careers Service could not create jobs, but in the absence of anyone else who was prepared to do so it at least tried to help.

Anyone who is surprised at the decline of the main political parties and the disgust that many people feel for them should ponder on these facts. The Labour Party, as the principal political party representing such areas is particularly culpable, and has consistently failed to make the case for revival of areas which have suffered since the 1980s. They are terrified of being seen as class warriors, of offending the South East and of appearing ‘dogmatic’ by having some principles. They are likely to pay the price for their neglect in Scotland at the next election. They cannot expect to remain secure indefinitely in their strongholds in the North, Wales and the Midlands if they continue to neglect the people whom they are supposed to represent.

Labour used to represent the society as a whole, ‘workers by hand and brain’. A majority of MPs began in ordinary jobs and went into politics only after making a secure life in the world most of us inhabit. What happens now is that most future MPs go from university to political research, think-tanks, lobbying agencies or something else that is close to the political elite. They don’t share the experiences of ordinary people.

There is growing awareness of the scale of the problem with some reporting of the plight of economically depressed parts of Britain breaking through into the ‘quality’ press such as the Independent and the Guardian. There is also a growing realisation of the fiasco of the abolition of the careers service. The government has responded by setting up a new employer led careers advice company headed up by the current Chairman of CapGemini a finance firm. It is putting the princely sum of £5million into this company. For comparison, the government saved around £220 million per annum by abolishing what remained of careers provision in 2011. To gauge the detachment from reality that this policy implies, here are the words of Vince Cable:

“Employers are best placed to inspire our young people into the world of work. The new company will play a vital role in creating that bridge between businesses and schools and inspire young people with exciting career prospects.”

Just put that against what we know of the labour market in most of Britain and you can see that this is a tawdry confidence trick which should be exposed by a Labour Party worth its salt. This is a ‘let them eat cake’ viewpoint of the worst sort.

The TUC by contrast has put forward alternative proposals which at least attempt to address the scale of the problem of giving young people and their parents sound advice about careers. The House of Commons Select Committee on Education held hearings into careers advice last week in which Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, was grilled. At least she was grilled by the Tory Chair of that Committee, Graham Stuart. The Labour members were pathetic, afraid to inject either passion or reality into the debate. They failed to even lightly toast Morgan. By contrast, Stuart put his finger on a problem to which neither Morgan or anyone else has an answer. If the only incentives for teachers and schools are to get good GCSE exam results and if it costs a school £50,000 a year to provide adequate careers advice, then what prospect is there of them devoting any attention to the future employment and careers of their pupils?

In 2013 the school inspectors found that careers advice in 80% of secondary schools was inadequate. This is hardly surprising given what the government has done. The government has adopted policies that actually encourage schools not to spend what little cash they have on giving careers advice to pupils. The old brokerage service between schools and employers, the Careers Officers virtually disappeared some years ago.

In a way this is a sideshow compared to the big event which is the collapse of decent employment in large parts of Britain. But it is symptomatic of the lack of concern for working people which appears to characterise the two and a half liberal parties which still dominate politics in Britain. Under Labour in government we can look forward to more cynical neglect and the further decline of employment in Britain unless the trade unions step up to the mark and demand something better for the money that they give to the Labour Party.

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