The scourge of unemployment

Unemployment and those seeking jobseeker’s allowance has now risen to its highest point in over a decade. It is estimated that there are now over two million people out of work, and this figure is mounting as the economy is haemorrhaging more jobs every month. In the wake of this devastating economic collapse, can we argue that New Labour’s commitment to create prosperity
has failed?

In 1997, New Labour made a pledge to reduce unemployment, and one of the key tenets of the economic plan to achieve this goal was the ‘New Deal’. The scheme encouraged training and apprenticeships to help those unemployed to find work, in what was described as a ‘workfare’ state. This shift in language away from welfare was designed as a clever piece of spin in order to appease middle England and the left of the party. Indeed, it appeared that by the 2005 election such measures had proven successful, with over a million people no longer claiming the jobseeker’s allowance. Consequently, Gordon Brown was hailed as the man who had helped people adapt and survive in a fierce global economy, in contrast to the Tories, who still seemed to prefer chastising the unemployed.

Yet I believe this position was a clever manipulation of the facts on the ground. The truth is that the New Deal tried to gain kudos with two contradictory viewpoints, and in the process achieved neither one nor the other. Unemployment figures show that the top ten parliamentary constituencies for high unemployment are those which have had high rates of unemployment for decades. The list reads like a depressing flashback to the 1980s, with places such as Hull, London, South Wales, Liverpool and in particular Birmingham, all suffering. The top three worst affected areas are in Birmingham, most notably Claire Short’s constituency of Ladywood, with 9.9% of the population claiming jobseekers allowance. Very much the ‘one in ten’ so evocatively articulated by UB40 in 1981.

As this economic recession unfolds, it is clear that unemployment is being presented as a sudden phenomenon, after years of what New Labour called low unemployment. Whilst it is true to say that the current Government achieved the feat of getting more people working than ever before and has also stated intent to create 100,000 new jobs, these will ultimately prove a small drop in an altogether vast ocean of economic misery. New Labour has simply failed to address the problems of communities ravaged by industrial and economic decline.

The question, of course, still remains as to why this has happened. I believe that New Labour has made no true effort to tackle unemployment, and although education, training and apprenticeships have helped, they have not wished to take the steps to alter the economic system. They have happily accepted the market view that those employed are ‘active resources’, and that those unemployed are ‘inactive’. It is a doctrine concerned only with bottom line profit and has a cold indifference to the human cost of unemployment. These people are the army of the unemployed, there to be tapped into as ‘commodities’, rather than as people with hopes, needs, talents and aspirations.

The result has been the creation of the so called ‘McJobs’, with no concerted effort to meet people’s aspirations, as giving prospects to these ‘commodities’ has not been seen as economically viable. Consequently, people are now left to face the inevitable pain from a system that doesn’t care.

New Labour’s legacy will be twelve years of adhering to a system that has no care for high unemployment, and its failure is perhaps why we see increasing stories of ‘scroungers’ and those ‘on the fiddle’ in our press. This is the final indictment of the failure of New Labour’s appeasement. Instead, we must look for an alternative approach, one which gets to the crux of the issue. We must seek to revive communities by the construction of better housing, social and leisure facilities, as well as sustainable development that puts the interest of people before profit.

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