Posted Under: Capitalism,Employment,The Welfare State
The recession seems to have become a pantomime this week. At every opportunity the Chancellor tells us: “it’s behind you”, then the Office of National Statistics (ONS) yell: “Oh no it isn’t!” So are we in recession or aren’t we? There’s an easy answer to this – some of us are and some of us aren’t.
This is surely the most inequitable recession on record. While some are badly affected, some have actually benefited. Take investment bankers for example – this is not the part where I say “some of my best friends are bankers” because they’re not and there’s a reason for that – I’m reliably informed those bankers that kept their jobs are currently laughing maniacally while rolling in bank notes and their own effluvia. Anyone who has an interest-only standard variable mortgage is feeling gratified because the interest rates are so low. People who have secure permanent work are also comparatively unaffected.
However, for me the recession has hit home this fortnight. I am currently unemployed. In journalism terms I am ‘between contracts’, a phrase which means exactly the same as ‘resting actor’ only with even more self-righteousness. Being ‘between contracts’ is not an unusual position for journalists and anyone who is self-employed. However, there is something different about it this time: there are very few jobs.
The ONS statistics say that unemployment is reaching the 3 million mark. I think you can easily double that figure. Those statistics don’t take into account anyone the government have managed to segue into a “scheme” of some sort. Then there are the legions of people doing unpaid or barely-paid internships and voluntary work, scraping by on occasional temp work or ‘between contracts’. Many of these people are not on jobseekers allowance (the very name conjures up a ‘seek and ye shall find’ optimism). Why? Surely anyone in their right mind would go on the dole?
Not me, I’m not eligible. Sadly, this isn’t because I’m fabulously wealthy, it’s because I’m married and my husband has a part-time job – therefore he has to ‘support’ me. Whether you agree with this or not (as a feminist I have ethical problems letting him pay for drinks, so you can imagine I’m thrilled…) you have to wonder – how many hidden unemployed are there? Are we getting the full picture?
For any of you still fortunate enough to be wondering if the recession is really that bad let me tell you what it’s like on the ground. I’m getting on my bike and looking for work like a good capitalist. I’m applying for jobs that in the past I would have walked into that day, smiling beneficently and holding my nose. Now I’m up against 150 other candidates, clawing and scratching. Now consider this: I am lucky enough to have many years of solid work experience and I live in London. What about people who live in parts of the country which have been worse affected by the economic downturn? What about people who have just left university and school and have very little experience and huge debts?
If you were wondering why the school/university holidays seem to be dragging on a bit it’s because there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed young people. Things are much worse for them than they are for me. Chances are another contract will come along for me soon enough, and I’ll keep sending CV’s and moaning in my little middle-class trough of despond until it does.
The next person to tell me that ‘when they were unemployed in the early 80’s it was a great time of artistic creativeness’ will have their head impaled on a memory stick. This is a Labour government, so why does it feel like the darkest days of Thatcherism? The millions of unemployed people in this country don’t want another initiative, they just want a job – but it seems to me that Westminster is too busy arguing over the minutiae of whether we are or aren’t in recession to notice. They forget that pantomime is the most democratic of all art forms and the audience has a habit of getting involved in the show…