The Jobless Crisis: Real lives that dispel the cliches

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AN EXASPERATED Norman Willis identified the difficulty as he struggled to hammer the message home. Three million unemployed meant three million individuals without work or purpose and millions of families without money or hope.

'This all sounds like cliches,' the TUC general secretary admitted, looking around the press conference.

Twelve years after UB40 sang their lament to the 'one in ten', mass unemployment has lost its impact. The language used to describe it seems as tired and old as the problem; the images as inadequate as a decade of 'solutions'.

Yesterday the TUC tried to breathe new life into a 'bloody crisis'. It produced four jobless people to colour and define what has become abstract. Hannah Andam, 31, from Southampton, Maria Middleton, 48, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, Maurice Chittock, 43, from Kettering, Northamptonshire and Brian Rogers, 42, from Nottingham, have all joined the dole queue since the election of John Major.

They met opposition party leaders. But it was Mr Major they wanted to see and it was Mr Major who denied them. If the Prime Minister could meet two Antarctic explorers on Wednesday, he might have spared some time for those suffering in the wilderness of unemployment, Mr Willis said.

'It is scandalous that he won't see us,' said Mrs Middleton, made redundant 18 months ago when a bridal shop went out of business. 'I see John Major as the father of this country and I think he is turning his back on us.'

Mr Rogers, made redundant after 20 years with British Coal, described his jobless years as 'the longest two years of my life' and Employment Training as 'a revolving door leading back to the dole queue'. He and his family were recently evicted after running up mortgage arrears.

Mr Chittock, an architectural technician with two children, was made redundant twice in 1990; one company was cutting back and the other folded. He demanded 'proper retraining', insisting it was all 'a question of political will'. Ms Andam, a qualified theatre nurse, is unemployed because she cannot find affordable child care. 'It costs pounds 25,000 to train a nurse and pounds 8,000 to keep me on the dole. It doesn't make sense. I want to work but the system won't let me.' They spoke for millions but the Methodist Central Hall, near Westminster, where they gathered before a lobby of MPs, was only half full. Some had green and orange dreadlocks and looked barely old enough to have left school. Young or old; they were frustrated and they laid the blame at the Government's door. David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool, said 'loss of hope and the waste of God-given skills' lay beneath the unemployment statistics. Other speakers declared their confidence in 'simple solutions', demanding investment in infrastructure and construction to put people back to work.

Dan Finn, director of the Unemployment Unit, said unemployment was no accident but a method of economic management. The teenagers with the rainbow hair clapped extra hard.

A woman sitting above the Kirkby Unemployed Centre's huge red banner had attached a photograph of John Major's head to a long stick. At least one man in the crowd would have been happier had it been the real thing.

(Photograph omitted)