Magazine article The Spectator

Cut the Cacophony

Magazine article The Spectator

Cut the Cacophony

Article excerpt

The title of Still Waiting after All These Years on Radio Four this week (Thursday) was the give-away. It meant that the longterm unskilled unemployed of Merseyside were still waiting for something to be done about their plight. What it really conveyed, though, was their mind-set: they're waiting for jobs to turn up. They never will, of course, but they'll wait and wait like Africans in a drought gazing at the sky for the rains; and when they don't come it will be time to draw the old age pension. A generation that went from school to retirement without actually working.

There was something Third World about the Liverpool visited by Simon Dring, the presenter and producer of this programme, a World Tonight Special. There were the passive, resentful men sitting around all day unable to support their broken families, the single mothers claiming welfare but at the same time keeping the show on the road. Dring himself, adopting a lachrymose endof-the-world-is-nigh voice to engage our sympathy, fell into the trap of believing that the solution for Merseyside and places like it was the responsibility of someone else, the government, Europe or employers. `Even though millions of pounds have already been spent,' he said, `jobs for the unemployed aren't materialising.'

He seemed surprised but we could have told him that. Jobs don't just materialise; there has to be a need for them. No amount of money will create them, except in the short-term. We all know that technology has wiped out millions of unskilled jobs. This has been happening for nearly 20 years but on Merseyside the people Dring interviewed hadn't noticed, or couldn't adapt. About 140,000 jobs have been lost there since the 1970s. The more enterprising have either retrained or moved elsewhere, usually to the south of England if my travels in this region are anything to go by.

Dring didn't suggest to those he interviewed that they might like to consider acquiring a skill that would make them employable. The programme cried out for some hard-headed questioning. He found Ralph who hadn't worked for ten years. Ralph said he could find a job tomorrow but it wouldn't pay more than 60 a week. This is very low, of course, and I certainly couldn't live on it but might it not return to him the loss of his self-esteem? Or it might lead to better-paid opportunities. Instead, he put his faith in the lottery. …

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