Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Will it help if we call them ‘Neets’ instead?

Two op-ed pieces that make an interesting juxtaposition today. Here’s Libby Purves in the Times:

Long-term unemployment is a curse: it not only bankrupts the state but leaches self-respect, health and hope from the individual. Often enough it leads straight on to claiming incapacity for depression and stress (such claims have risen by a third since 1997). The bald fact is that anybody able-bodied, with no serious domestic caring to do, should earn their keep. Daytime TV is no life, nor is the well-documented route whereby the young untrained unemployed — “Neets” — are 50 per cent more likely to drink heavily, take drugs and fall ill.

… because of what happened to working people in the faltering 1970s and then the brusquely callous 1980s, when tens of thousands were thrown out of the steel, coal and manufacturing industries — the stigma of unemployment faded. It had to. Mere humanity demanded it. For a couple of decades we had in our midst a vast number of people excluded from work by circumstances beyond their control.

Thus evolved a sense that living on benefits, even without young children or a verifiable illness, is OK. Not perfect, not luxurious, but no disgrace. The euphemism “unwaged” handily put carers under the same umbrella. But a nihilistic sense of benefits as a permissible way of life got passed to the next generation. At the same time a poverty trap developed whereby a low wage brought in less than benefits. Gordon Brown’s working families tax credits (although sometimes chaotic) have helped, but the trap still exists: if a single unemployed parent gets even a tentative job, the free school meals, transport, dentistry and prescriptions abruptly stop...

John Hutton is right: the status quo is unacceptable both in economic and in humane terms. But those who brandish carrots and sticks and hair-clippers must understand that often their enemy is a fatalistic state of mind which, though unhelpful, is explicable. That, not simple idleness, is the difference between a second-generation British refusenik and an ambitious Pole who still believes, owing to his very different national history, that life’s natural path leads upwards.

Meanwhile, John Harris in The Guardian offers a leftist view: the priority is not to actually try to address the problem of the anti-socialism engendered by generations of welfare-dependency. Nor is it ok to disapprove of anti-social behaviour. Rather, the important thing is for all of us to stop being so mean about 'chavs':

Here, then, is a modern folk devil maligned just about everywhere, from schoolyards to the offices of upscale newspapers. The Daily Telegraph's venerable Simon Heffer, for example, almost exactly echoed the students' responses back in January: "Our underclass has been allowed to get out of control ... They and their children regard school as optional. Drug dealing and theft are the main careers, nicely supplementing the old staple of benefit fraud." He might loudly harrumph; millions crystallise the same sentiments in the habitual use of a single word.


Yeah, sorry about that, John.

19 comments:

Duck said...

I agree with the first guy, but that's only because I suffer from judgmentitis syndrome. It's a disease. You can't hold me responsible for holding other people responsible.

Brit said...

The first guy is a gal: Libby Purves. It's quite a thoughtful piece.

Duck said...

Yeah, that guy.

Peter Burnet said...

You're a hard man, Brit. Where is your compassion? Can't you see they are just unlucky, angry, melancholy, hyper-active, amoral men, grabbing whatever they can from an immoral world?

Brit said...

The problem is that they are the precise opposite: settling for the minimum.

Responsibility, yes. But apportioning blame is only half the issue. The other half is understanding the conditions that make it easy for people to be chavs, and addressing them. This is what Purves's article looks at.

Harris's article is classic intentions over outcomes twaddle: trying to blame everything on the attitude of the middle class. He isn't interested in improving anything.

monix said...

Brit
It's time for another poem - how about 'Ode to the middle class prig'?

Brit said...

Nb. Monix would like that above comment to read 'priggishness' rather than 'prig' - Ed.

Duck said...

I had a great idea for a poem by Brit this weekend as I struggled with trying to repair the drywall in the master bedroom. Something like "the do-it-yourselfer's lament". As I continued to get a smooth surface through endless cycles of mud-patching and sanding, the thought occured to me that in addition to vacuums, nature abhors a flat surface. I'm sure there's a poetical way to express that insight.

Brit said...

I'm available for commissions.

Brit said...

Shall we say $10 per line?

Duck said...

How about a beer?

How much will you charge your mum?

Brit said...

A beer per line?

(I owe my mother for the whole birth thing - that doesn't apply to you, as far as I'm aware.)

Duck said...

A beer per quatrain?

So you haven't paid your mum back yet?

Duck said...

Also, before we move ahead, I'll need a quote on how many quatrain's you'll need to complete the job.

Brit said...

Can one ever pay that back?

The number of quatrains is up to you, the commissioner. I can do you a haiku for a half of lager.

Duck said...

Can you do it for 6?

Duck said...

Is that a yes?

Brit said...

Ok - it won't necessarily be quick.

Duck said...

Neither will the payment