Letter: Creating more work for all to share

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The Independent Online
Sir: Dr John Philpott is quite right to emphasise the need for political action to deal with unemployment (Letters, 17 March). The cost to the nation of each unemployed person is an annual pounds 9,000, as the then Secretary of State confirmed a year ago. Yet there is no shortage of work that people would like to see done: one has only to observe the deteriorating state of our roads to know this. We need to find a better way of spending this pounds 9,000.

Past experience suggests that no conceivable improvement in economic growth will be sufficient by itself to solve the problem. This leaves two ways of dealing with unemployment: job creation and work-sharing.

Job creation can be achieved by infrastructure spending. However, it would also be possible to spend at least some of the pounds 9,000 on encouraging the creation of jobs in another way. A recent paper from Gli Amici - a group of senior personnel professionals - has revived a proposal made some 12 years ago by the Institute of Personnel Management: a subsidy to encourage real jobs in the companies and public bodies which already exist to provide the goods and services that people want. The Government's Workstart scheme is a limited form of this.

A similar subsidy is also proposed to encourage work-sharing in its widest sense: not two people doing one job, but relatively small reductions in working hours so the overall total of people in work is increased. We do currently have the longest average working hours in Europe. This could be used instead of, or as well as, the work rationing proposed by Dr D. J. C. Cunningham (Letters, 17 March).

These actions need political will, because without the subsidy they would cost companies money, whereas the present solution - unemployment - is financed by the Government. The present solution is, in fact, a form of work-sharing: the majority work and pay for the others to do nothing. It must be the least productive and most socially damaging form of work-sharing that there is. It is curious that the present Secretary of State, David Hunt, has branded work-sharing as 'economically illiterate' when that is what the Government is doing.

Yours sincerely

D. J. BELL

Ware, Hertfordshire

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