Opinion: A bright new year?

For me, this year is starting as it is for millions of our fellow citizens – dealing with a complete change, having found myself redundant.

I am though, one of the lucky ones. I don’t need to worry about getting a new job for a while. I have the luxury of taking my time and hopefully finding something that suits me rather than being forced to take something, anything, to keep the wolf from the door.

But most don’t have that luxury, for our young people coming out of school or university with all the enthusiasm and aspiration of youth finding themselves with little prospect of job. And for those at the other end of their working lives – my kind of age – wondering if they are destined for the scrap heap with no chance of working again.

Whether we like it or not, our self esteem is very tied up with what we do for a living. How many social events have you been to where you were not asked the ubiquitous question “and what do you do for a living?” It’s not just small talk – it’s how we find our place in the world.

So what if the most interesting morsel you have to offer is that you don’t have a job? It shouldn’t matter but it does and the longer we go on without a job the harder it becomes to get back into the world of work. It affects our confidence, our motivation, our relationships, our mental health, our sense of who we are.

There are many estimates of the cost per annum of being a NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) young person – but I have seen figures going as high as £50,000 per head. So, not investing in their futures is not only bad in terms of the human cost, it is also foolish because of the economic cost.

The 2010 Princes Trust Yougov Youth Index makes harrowing reading. Probably the most worrying aspect is the impact unemployment has on young people’s mental health.

Thirty years ago, during the recession of the early Eighties I remember hearing someone from the North East speak about the devastating impact of the recession on the lives of the young people he was working with. He said something I have never forgotten and which always haunted me when working with and on behalf of unemployed young people – he said:

The time that they could have spent working has been lost – and it has been lost forever.

I welcome the new Youth Contract. It is a step in the right direction, but we mustn’t forget the parents and grandparents of these young people, who also need to feel valued and respected, who don’t want to feel as if they are on the scrap heap however near retirement they are. There is a certain irony in the drive to raise the retirement age when so many would do anything for a job, or the total madness of some folk working eighty hour weeks while others twiddle their thumbs.

So, my solution? I think we need to encourage much more flexible working. Why do we hold to the idea that every job is 35-40 hour sized? I have had so much more fun since working a 28 hour week! We need to recognise the short-termism of the savage cuts that not only damage communities but also create more problems than they solve with all the attendant costs of unemployment. We must do more to encourage and support mutuals and employee ownership – which can contribute to reducing inequality and promoting economic justice. And we must challenge the “I’m alright Jack” (‘scuse the pun!) attitude that stops us acknowledging that universal truth that no man – or woman – is an island.

And what will I be up to in my new found freedom?! Well, I have plans for some voluntary youth work……..and a fair bit more blogging and tweeting. You have been warned!

* Linda Jack is a former youth worker and member of the party's Federal Policy Committee.

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  • Simon McGrath 4th Jan '12 - 9:31pm

    As you have more time for blogging will you be giving us an update from the Labour Party policy Committee you are on?

  • Daniel Henry 4th Jan '12 - 10:59pm

    Have you managed to persuade them to ditch their daft centralism and devolve more power to local councils?

  • Ruth Bright 5th Jan '12 - 11:37am

    Glad to see that Simon and Daniel are full of New Year cheer.

    Good for you Linda. The whole job/identity thing is fascinating. I have had five years as a full-time PPC and then five years
    as a full-time parent. It’s amazing how bewildering such an eccentric cv is for those who like to categorize people.

  • “So, my solution? I think we need to encourage much more flexible working. Why do we hold to the idea that every job is 35-40 hour sized? I have had so much more fun since working a 28 hour week!”

    Totally agree (nursing home accountant 20hrs per week + borough cllr) my big drawback is that this doesn’t bring in enough money for me to pay for out of control cost of housing. Property costs (including rents) are so high in where I am that it is suffocating society and preventing new business start-ups.

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