23 April 2009

On Unemployment

I feel the need to get this off my chest, given that people are starting to bandy employment (and, more to the point, unemployment) statistics around to prove a political point. The Tories point to the unemployment figures as A, then note the 1997 figures as B (where A > B). Labour might attempt to point to 1981 or 1991 unemployment figure C (where C > A) and if that doesn't work, highlight current employment figure D and compare it with 1997 figure E (where D > E).

But all of this - on both sides - misses the point. Having been armed with bitter experience, let me tell you what it's like to be one of those statistics.

Unemployment is not a figure on a page. It's not an interesting statistic. It's not a point for party political debate.

It's death.

It's a slow, lingering death, during which your mind, your soul and even your body weaken.

Your family can try and make things easier but can't tackle the root cause.

Your circle of friends appears to shrink.

You begin to doubt yourself, and your capabilities to function as a normal member of society.

You have - for a time - your Dole money. You have the ridiculous, bureaucratic hoops that you're expected to jump through as you tick all the JobCentre Plus boxes yet still seem no closer to finding, as they put it, "they work you want, and the help you need". You have ridiculous courses like "Life Balance", and a two-week programme not unlike the "Restart" course in The League of Gentlemen, in which you're led to believe that spending an afternoon in a kayak on a canal with three other unemployed people (one of whom keeps hitting himself where it hurts with the oar and screaming), then left in a room with ten other people and two copies of the Lancashire Evening Post.

All you have left - and that too is always on the brink - is hope. Hope that yes, you can beat this. After all, you have to.

I look back on that particular time and find few redeeming features. One of them, as it happens, is this blog, which was born as a result of the desperate need to keep my mind active, an urge to feel like I was doing something with my time. Many others don't even find that outlet.

Which is why I bristle at the thought of the unemployed being reduced to the status of mere numbers in the House of Commons.

But every one of those numbers represents a story, a real human being, with needs and aspirations of their own - as yet unmet.

So here's something to think about: what happens when this group of exasperated, frustrated people with aims, dreams and ambitions, all of which have been held at bay, find their hope turn to despair, and then on to anger?

Then, and only then, will it be wise to think of them in terms of numbers.


scunnert said...

Well - that was from the heart. Aye peoples lives, hopes, dreams, reduced to statistics and used as so much grist for politician's mills. They have no shame.

CrazyDaisy said...

Touched by your words, I confess I cannot give you any comfort, but I agree with your comment on anger - I predict a riot - many of them.

Will said...

Well, luckily for me, that time is in the past right now - ironic that when times were good, I missed the fun but am avoiding the worst of things at the moment.

But it's very much the present for far too many people and I just wish that instead of bandying numbers around, the folks in charge would realise that they're dealing with people rather than cattle or sacks of potatoes.

Sadly, it will take an outrage for that to happen. And it'll take those of us who are doing OK to speak with them too.

Political Dissuasion said...

Cracking post. Been trying to talk up the unemployment issue recently to no avail as it has become a political beating-stick, as oopsed to a problem that urgently needs addressed.
Until they start looking at the issue, rather than nice, useful stats from yesteryear, then I am more likely to be stuck in my living room posting and commenting on it during my breaks than I am to be working.