"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

5 Feb 2012

Return to the Black Stuff

Today I celebrate my sixty fourth birthday. Celebrate, because I have only one year before collecting my State Pension and escaping the indignities and ravages of the job market. Last year I took the further opportunity of early retirement from a 35 year career in the public sector, feeling confident that I would pick up some part-time work to see me through to giving up paid employment andever the cynical optimistenjoying the virtues and obscurity of old age.
     Not so easy. I now find myself competing with thousands of other public sector workers for an ever diminishing pool of job vacancies. Many of whom, thrown unwillingly into the job market, have young families to support and may be struggling to hang onto the family home, even long standing relationships. The salutary lesson for me has been that, having years of experience at a senior level, an impressive CV and proven track record backed up with strong references, is no guarantee of getting an interview for a jobeven one requiring considerably less experience. In spite of legal safeguards to protect older employees, ageism is alive and well; it’s the turn of the beautiful people, celebrity rather than substance is the order of the day.
     Given this scenario, it is seriously screwed up that the Government thinks they can now drive thousands of disabled and unemployed people back into work by cutting their benefits. One could be forgiven for believing that we are witnessing the final revenge of the ruling and governing classes on centuries of social reform. Completing the work Margaret Thatcher started over thirty years ago, George Osborne’s unforgiving cull of the public sector (a group in society vilified for ‘enjoying’ job and pension security deniedif one believes the rhetoricto those in private industry) sends out a clear message. Survival and selfishness rule. Just look across the Atlantic for a glimpse of our future.
     We all know the rallying cry of British Conservatism: apply free market economics to health and social care, education, transport, criminal justice, etc., cast out the parasites of the State by opening up the former public sector to private sector entrepreneurs and the growing number of unemployed prepared to work longer, for less money, and pay a larger percentage of their diminishing salaries into private pension schemes to the delight of the greedy insurance sector who, like the bankers before them (with the support of their political cronies), help themselves in their undignified stampede for personal enrichment.
     But, while captains of industry might feel reassured that their interests are safe in the hands of their mates in Government, it is a myth to think that private sector workers will fair any better than their public sector colleagues. In reality, the current British coalition government are too incompetent to even deliver their intended strategy of stripping out what they regard as a bloated public sector to stimulate private sector growth. 2010 Treasury estimates were claiming that over the next five years, Osborne’s spending cuts would result not only in a loss of at least 2,000 jobs a week in the public sector, but up to an additional 2,800 jobs a week in the private sector. And in those regions of the Country where local economies depend on public sector jobs, the economic and social effects will be devastating on all sectors of the community.
     Enough of the diatribe. Why, you might ask, don’t I stop whining, give up gracefully, and exit the rat-race while I’m ahead? The decision to start my family later in life has caught up with me. My two youngest sons, aged 19 and 20, are still in university, one in his first year, andunlike my generation who enjoyed a free education and professions in high demandare faced with massive debt and little hope of finding work. Not that we don’t enjoy their company around the home, together surviving the worst ravages of the recession. But, like many parents, I fear for my children’s future, well aware that we are probably the last generation for a century to enjoy a better quality of life than our parents!

With memories of the last recession, I sat down recently to watch again the early 1980s TV drama series Boys from the Blackstuff, a poignant reminder of the Thatcher legacy. Many of us have yet to wake up to the kind of stark realities enacted by Yosser Hughes and his mates in Alan Bleasdale’s remarkable dramatisation: the disintegration of community, family and the self. Yosser’s iconic 30 year old catch phrase, ‘gis a job’, has come back to haunt a new generation.


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