Gunn on Politics

    There is an assumption among politicians, backed up by the media,
    that the public are no longer capable of absorbing any message
    longer than eight words. However, the issues surrounding our
    attitudes to work are exercising many a policy-former.

    After skipping over statistics showing the lowest ever numbers
    registered as unemployed, there is a plethora of more detailed
    figures which just do not seem to add up. How do we enjoy near to
    full employment when the number of people of working age who are
    described as economically inactive now tops 7.8 million – the
    highest ever?

    A high percentage will be students. But another estimate puts the
    number of those who are not in full-time education or registered
    unemployed at 1.2 million. Who are these people? What are they
    doing with their lives?

    Many of you may know if your work connects in some way with the
    718,000 people now claiming incapacity benefit through poor mental
    health – a rise of 38 per cent since 1997. Has the mental health of
    our citizens deteriorated so seriously in the past seven years? The
    total figure of those claiming this benefit is now a record 2.7
    million.

    My trawl through these statistics coincided with a CBI report
    claiming that workers took 176 million days a year in sick leave.
    Employers guess that 25 million of these were not taken because of
    genuine sickness.

    Alongside these figures are the oft-repeated claims that Britons
    work longer hours than their continental workmates. This is cited
    by trade unions as a reason why we should introduce the 35-hour
    working week for all sectors. Yet there are headlines every week in
    the France complaining about the impact of the 35 working week on
    the French economy.

    Attitudes to work here are changing as the idea of vocation and
    public service disappears. When hereditary peers were ejected from
    the House of Lords, those seeking one of the remaining 92 places
    submitted a short “manifesto”. One wrote a single word: “Duty”. He
    was not successful.

    On hearing this, a group of highly intelligent young people laughed
    in derision at what they regarded as clear evidence of why the
    hereditaries should all be kicked out. No wonder there is so much
    angst among those struggling to produce workable policies for a
    healthy economy in the years ahead.

    Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
    councillor in the London Borough of Camden.

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