Nicholas Lezard: There’s dignity in not working, too

When officials start calling on the jobless at home, an ugly spirit is abroad

Share
Related Topics

So the Government has decided that it would be a good idea to get advisers to visit the long-term unemployed and tell them how to find jobs. Nothing too bad about that, I thought, and it’s nice of them to make the effort to go to people’s homes for a chat. But then I remembered that more than mere sympathy and the desire to lend a sympathetic ear might be at work.

There is an ugly spirit abroad, whose clearest expression came last week in an open letter from the German publication Bild to the people of Greece, in which it was suggested that the route out of their economic morass lay in getting out of bed earlier.

I have heard few more offensive suggestions in my life. After a certain age, people tend to work out whether or not they are the sort who like to get up early, and I have always thought, in the spirit of doing as you would be done by, that you shouldn’t rouse someone who is asleep unless they have a train to catch.

One of the most endearing and convincing reasons why we should wish peace upon the prophet Mohammed is that he is said to have cut off the part of his cloak upon which a cat had fallen asleep, and the principle should also apply to humans. In other words: among the long-term unemployed, there are going to be a proportion of people who like it like that.

One suspects that this government is as much of a fan of that kind of attitude as was Thatcher’s. Lenin railed against Oblomovism, that tendency towards pleasant lethargy epitomised by the splendidly idle hero of Goncharov’s great novel; perhaps a little more tolerance in his character would have softened some of the harsher edges of the system he created.

Some will raise the question of the dignity of labour and the right to work. In his 1932 essay, In Praise of Idleness, Bertrand Russell wrote: “Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.” Put like that, the whole concept of the dignity of labour is undermined.

So let these government inspectors find out first whether the people they are visiting want to have some job, any job, however rotten or degrading, or whether they want to mooch around all day. They may go so far as to suggest a reading list, or some hobby with which to cultivate themselves or relieve the occasional period of tedium; but no more than that. I have no problem with funding through taxation both the deliberately idle and the frustrated job-seeker, in the same way that the NHS should be free to those who both can, and cannot, afford private healthcare.

But I suspect that my suggestion will be anathema to the wowsers and bean-counters who run the world these days. (It is no accident, I think, that Greeks have a higher life expectancy than do we.) We can, though, make a stand. To do otherwise is to succumb to what Russell called “the morality of the Slave State”.

n.lezard@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'