by Peter Cook
The defining principle of work is that you get paid for it. If you don’t, it’s either charity, self-sacrifice or slavery.
All these schemes to “break the cycle of unemployment” by getting people to carry out unpaid work like stacking shelves, are meaningless, if that essential ingredient of a wage is not included.
What do politicians think unemployed people do all day? Lounge around in bed watching the Jeremy Kyle Show?
Most people want to work. But the reason they want to work is that it gives them the independence, self respect and freedom of choice that goes with earning a living wage.
When I had my business I reluctantly took on a work experience lad from a local school for a fortnight.
This lad was brilliant. When he’d done the things I asked him he found other tasks for himself. I would have taken him on permanently if that had been possible.
At the end of his fortnight I handed over an envelope with a couple of banknotes in it. “Oh no,” he said. “We’re not allowed to accept money.”
“Listen,” I said. “If you don’t get paid, you haven’t had work experience. Getting paid is the whole point of it. If people don’t get paid, how can they live? How can they pay their rent, their mortgages, their food bills, their travel expenses, or stand a round down the pub?”
If you don’t have a decent wage at the end of the month, then you rely on others for the necessities of life. That might be the state, your family or your friends. It’s not a healthy way to be. You lose self respect and it saps your self confidence.
I’ve had a job of sorts since I was 10. It started with a butcher’s round – 8s. 6d. for a hard Saturday afternoon’s work. Then, in addition, I got a morning paper round. In the school holidays I did farm work and at weekends I milked cows.
So what do I want a medal? No. I got my reward. It was cash which enabled me to do all sorts of other things I would otherwise not be able to afford.
Only once did I get a handout from the state. It was after I had left school and been fired from my first job for complete and total incompetence. A nice lady asked me if I minded factory work. I was glad of anything.
She then reached into a drawer and found 16s., which she gave me to tide me over. I went up the pub and blew the lot.
I then spent six months doing the mind numbingly tedious job of keeping peas cascading through a hopper into a water flow, so they could be floated off to the canning factory.
On occasions the boredom of this was relieved by being allowed to pour baked beans through an electric mincing machine so they could be used for baby foods. I could get overtime by sitting by a conveyor belt and picking out bad peas as a river of green went unremittingly by. But at least I was being paid at the end of each week.
I would hate to be applying for jobs now. In my day you just wrote a letter, they interviewed you, and you were either chosen or not. Bosses relied on their judgement.
The last time I applied for a job, the process of filling in an endless and pointless on-line application form sent me almost catatonic with fatigue and boredom.
But I have wandered off the point. The only real way to break the cycle of unemployment is to create jobs. It shouldn’t be hard. There’s plenty needs doing.
When people have jobs they contribute to the economy, rather than becoming a drain on it. That way we can get growth and start to reduce the deficit.