Letter: More to Britain than plc

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The Independent Online
CHRISTOPHER Huhne's argument that 'work-sharing will not help' to reduce unemployment, because 'unemployment is below the level at which wage demands, costs and inflation begin to accelerate' may make sense to an economist ('The flaws in Delors that fail to inspire', Business, 12 December). But it makes no sense to someone who talks to well qualified people without a job and who sees the miserable selection of jobs, mostly at ludicrously low wages, in the local job centres. Recently, a company setting up a plant in this area, no doubt with the aim of reducing its labour costs, received 36,000 replies to its advertisement for 200 staff, 180 applicants for each job.

Your leader 'Just the job, Mr Delors' tells us that the average working week for full- time employees in Britain is by far the highest in Europe, at 43.7 hours. This is 5.7 hours, ie one seventh of a week's work, above a reasonable norm of 38 hours. Taking the full-time work force at 21 million, current overtime working is equivalent to 3 million full-time jobs, which is about the number of those registered unemployed.

Economists forget that Britain is a country and a society, not purely a money-making business. Tax and social security costs in Britain, as in some other countries of Europe, are high because so many of our fellow citizens are deprived, by unemployment, of the means from which to contribute.

Measures such as reducing the impact of tax and unemployment insurance on big businesses and higher wage-earners do not 'make a good deal of sense' if they load the burden of maintaining a civilised society disproportionately on to the disadvantaged groups of the nation's citizens. Such action over the last 14 years has pushed up crime and social distress in Britain to unprecedented levels.

Jeremy Lowe