When retirement loomed out of the mist it was not so much a case of how sorry they were to see me go but more take the money and run. Seekers after truth and telling it how it was were no longer in demand and shooting the messenger had become integral to the organisational strategy model.
Amongst the pearls of advice given was one that gave me pause for thought. It was “don’t do nowt jobs” which broadly covered a great deal of voluntary work and activities that entailed commitment with little or no financial reward. You would be taken for granted if not actually exploited.
So it is with sadness that in the world today “nowt jobs” are not simply confined to the outer shores of community or voluntary effort but internships and the rest that pay little or nothing have become key types of staffing at the bottom end across the board in politics and finance.
It is a cruel business with a great many serious consequences, too many to go into here. Another is the practice of appointing people to jobs theoretically part time but in fact mean that you work five days but get paid for two or the like.
If you are really strapped for money and need anything this is an easy one to fall for if you are told you could be upgraded, say later in the century.
Then there are all the jobs which are paid but with not much in the way of visible product. There are a great many of these in the public sector. Essentially people “busy doing nothing, working the whole day through, all trying to find lots of things not to do” in the words of the old song.
Apart from that there is the debate about subsidised jobs. Governments have been done this one way or another for centuries. In the glory days of British liners how many ships had the Royal Mail money and service and Empire personnel as the staple of their passenger lists?
During the 20th Century there is a long list of major industries which depended either heavily or in part on government money at one stage or another. How many cases are there where the industry was developed with state money, had a period of being in profit and then went into a long drawn out agony of state funded decline?
So the “Workfare” caper needs to be seen in that context. It has its own features. One is that there are so many people now around in their late teens or early 20’s who have never done a hand’s turn of work and for whom employment is an alien and disturbing world where people tell you what to do and expect you to do it.
That is never the way it was for them at home school or later, perhaps even in a university where the tutors would sign off copies of Wikipedia entries as original work for the relevant qualification. In a more robust age rather than all the euphemisms for their inabilities they would be described as “useless so and so’s”.
The major difficulty is that any state scheme these days comes with a phenomenal amount of paperwork, liabilities and responsibilities. It is no longer a case of giving someone a shovel and saying move that coal from there to there and you will be paid by the hour if you work hard.
What is the great irony is that when I were a lad almost any job in a shop was desirable at any level. You were indoors, sometimes with heating even, it was cleaner than most work and you were not covered in filth at the end of it.
It may not have paid much but that was the deal. Critically, at the end of a temporary or part time job you had experience and with luck a reference or someone to put in a word for you.
Today to see the relatively light, limited and often easy work being asked of people drawing benefits being described as “slavery” is ludicrous.
They don’t know the half of it.