Leading Article; Yes, we do still feel insecure

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The Independent Online
Very clever men and women like to tell other people that the evidence of their senses deceives them - that it is not really unseasonably hot, that nobody would ever think of imitating a violent film, that English football is as good as it ever was. William Waldegrave, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a Fellow of All Souls, is a very clever man indeed. Clever enough to tell us that we don't really need to feel insecure about our jobs, that lots of new ones are being created with big fat salaries and that we can leave it all to "the magic of the market" (yes, really, he did say that). No doubt this would go down very well at an All Souls seminar ("a very elegant argument, William") and probably did go down a treat at the American Chambers of Commerce, which Mr Waldegrave was addressing last week. It would go down rather badly in the hamburger bars, shopping centres and clothing factories where people can enjoy absolute job security provided they never complain about low wages, long hours or short meal breaks. It would go down still worse in the JobCentres where the unemployed can ponder the rival attractions of jobs offering a little bit more than pounds 10,000 a year and those offering a little bit less. As John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, put it last week: "Thanks, William. Thank you very bloody much."

In truth, however, Mr Waldegrave is probably not very concerned about Mr Edmonds and his members. They have long been familiar with job insecurity and they are not all that likely to vote Tory anyway. What is new is the extent of insecurity among the middle-class and aspirant working-class groups that put the Tories into power in the first place. Job tenure, it is argued, hasn't changed that much - eight years on average now, against nine years in 1979. A moment's reflection tells us that this statistic is almost meaningless: 17 years ago, many more people felt secure enough to change jobs on their own account. Far more important is that as many as 8.7 million different people have suffered at least a period of unemployment since the last election, including one in every three men of working age. Unemployment is no longer an experience largely confined, as it once was, to particular regions, particular occupations or particular age groups. Almost everybody, bank managers as well as brickies, accountants as well as shop assistants, will know a close colleague or family member who has been on the dole, if they have not experienced it themselves.

To many of these people, unemployment will have had a devastating effect on their lives. Again, manual workers always expected their incomes to decline as they got older and, therefore, weaker. The middle classes looked forward to steadily rising salaries, culminating in comfortable pensions; the sack was usually only a minor hiccup. Now, they face downward mobility. The longer they have been in a job - and, therefore, the further up the ladder they have climbed - the greater the fall. Somebody who has worked for the same firm for more than 10 years is likely to take a 25 per cent cut in salary when they start their next job, even if they find it within three months.

And, meantime, clever Mr Waldegrave offers his modern, sophisticated version of "let them eat cake". Two-thirds of the jobs created since 1993, he says, are in industries paying above-average wages. Read that again. Yes, Mr Waldegrave is saying, not that the jobs themselves carry above- average wages, but that they happen to be in industries where wages generally are above average. Are we expected to hold a party? Does Mr Waldegrave really think that lavatory cleaners in stockbroking firms should be specially grateful? Then he tells us that more than half the jobs created since 1993 are full-time. He omits to explain that many more than half those destroyed were also full-time. The net result, according to the Government's own Labour Force Survey, is that the number of full-time jobs has fallen by 69,000 since the last general election and permanent jobs by 109,000. Temporary employment is up by over 300,000 and the number of people who say they are in part-time jobs because they cannot get full-time ones is up by 175,000.

That is the reality of life as experienced by what Andrew Neil would call plain folk, and even the most expensively educated All Souls brain cannot explain it away.