Old slobs don't want to study Celtic mythology

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Further evidence that we are truly in the grip of "nanny" culture emerged this week with the news that the Prime Minister plans to focus his attention on those over 50 who are unemployed. Apparently we are to have a new cabinet "Crumbly Tsar" to devise policies to get us off our backsides and into the world of work.

The number of people over 50 who are not working has dramatically increased over the past 20 years - about one-third of the 7.5 million of us between 50 and retirement age are just doing nothing, according to the PM's "Performance and Innovation Unit". That's a title dreamt up by some ghastly over-achieving 25-year-old spin doctor for a start.

The Government is concerned that, once unemployed, this band of people are not even interested in voluntary work or studying. Now, although those questioned claimed they were "busy", their answers are not good enough for Renaissance man and Superdad Blair. We are to be encouraged to be "more active".

I write this as a 53-year-old who, before taking this job, spent a lot of time in baggy sweatpants between writing and TV series doing very little except visiting the fridge and going for long mid-week walks with other over-50s. I was happy, fulfilled, and deeply resentful of a government obsessed with youth like some stupid badge of achievement. The very sight of Yvette Cooper makes me squirm. Mr Blair should realise that for a lot of people over 50 the world of work is grim routine, unrewarding, soul- destroying, thoroughly grisly and unexciting.

Walking around Britain, I've met dozens of people over 50 who were made redundant. A couple of years ago, I walked the length of the British Steel works at Corby, an environment so noisy that I salute the employees who check in every day. The management told me that in the future computers would reduce the now sparse workforce even further. Now with the grim news about Rover and BMW, this slimming down process is happening again.

But it's been a continual process throughout industrial Britain for over a decade. The term "working class" is never used by anyone in our "Third Way" government. Now the joy of work has to be sold back to a generation of people whose working-class parents brought them up to think that work was what you did after you left school. What kind of work and what quality of life you were left with came in second place.

I do not find it surprising that my generation, having clocked on for 30 years, should take early retirement or redundancy and do very little. A 50-plus friend of mine works for Yorkshire Water - he can't wait to be made redundant. Why should he study, take part-time work or get involved in any of Blair's patronising plans to remould his life? He'll spend time beating for grouse, going racing, digging the garden and enjoying life. He won't feel valueless because he's not signed up for an Open University course in Celtic mythology - that might come later. For the time being he plans to be "busy" in his own way.

I accept that many people in their late forties would welcome employment, but when a government obsessed with youth tells them it has targeted them for a new "initiative" one can only despair. The fact is that few employers will admit to a form of discrimination more subtle than and as damaging as sexism or racism - which is ageism. The irony is that the generation that is being discarded are the baby-boomers of the late 1940s - the very ones who were the first exponents of youth culture, who made being young so desirable to advertisers and employers.

The answer is not to inflict another tsar on us but to recognise that ageism exists and enforce positive discrimination to combat it, and allow the middle-aged slobs to remain idle if that is what they wish.

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