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

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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