Sean O'Grady: Where is this promised land where anyone can find a job?

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Indy Politics

There is a pernicious – and frankly fairly insulting – assumption that lies at the heart of much government thinking.

It is, as Iain Duncan Smith put it on Thursday night, that "the jobs are out there".

Or, as George Osborne prefers to see it, that unemployment is a "lifestyle choice" taken because of our supposedly lavish welfare payments and, presumably, the innate idleness of sections of the population.

It all echoes Norman Tebbit's speech about how his father "got on his bike and looked for work". Well, like the poor, the lazy will always be with us, but the reason why the unemployment numbers have gone up by 800,000 in the past couple of years is not because we have suddenly developed a taste for hanging about the house watching The Jeremy Kyle Show, rather than getting on our bus or bikes to find work.

Nor have benefits suddenly become a lot more attractive. It is simply because the jobs are not "out there".

Of course, there are vacancies in the market – that is the nature of a dynamic economy, as industries and firms live and die. But there are simply not enough of them; 200,000 fewer, in fact, than there were in 2008.

Even if there were, there would still be a mismatch between unemployed ex-industrial and redundant public sector workers in South Wales, the west Midlands and the north-East and the new jobs in the south-East.

It is less a matter of getting from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff, but of selling your house in Merthyr, uprooting your family, getting retrained and then finding a job and, of course, affordable accommodation in expensive places such as Guildford or Cambridge, where some jobs are.

But do we want the congested, overcrowded south-East to attract yet more people – and for the rest of the kingdom to become depopulated sinks?

Do we abandon Merthyr, Stoke and Knowsley to dereliction? Or should we consider moving the jobs to the people; the lesson we learned from the 1930s' slump?

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