Letter: Social Justice: crucial progress from Beveridge, but leading where?

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The Independent Online
Sir: Two reports were produced today on aspects of welfare and unemployment.

One (the Borrie Report) is an apparently comprehensive document, the other (the White Paper on the Jobseekers Allowance) a disguised minor rationalisation of the existing system.

Your leading article 'Labour seeks the high ground' (25 October) is entirely concerned with these statements, and concludes by commenting that a larger contribution to unemployment reduction could be made through better education and training, a view that is now almost taken for granted. But why? It is difficult to see how, if there are 2.5 million unemployed, and half a million job vacancies, any amount of education and training will close the gap.

The rise in material living standards that has taken place over the last 150 years has involved increases in productivity - more use of machines - and less labour. Full employment, in the mid-19th century, meant about 12 hours a day for most people over the age of about 10. In the 1950s it meant 45- hour working weeks for those men who wanted to work. It is not clear what it means now, since nobody has defined it.

It has been calculated that if all employed Americans worked an hour a day less, 3 million more people could theoretically be employed. The problem is distributional, and politicians and their advisers would do well to face this inevitability. They should adapt their policies accordingly, encouraging education and training for interesting and meaningful lives as well as paid work, and efforts should be made to distribute work, as well as incomes, as fairly as possible.

Such an approach would replace the current desperate attempts to conceal reality with rhetoric. Then we might find ourselves on a road with a feasible destination, rather than a pointless journey to the elusive end of a rainbow.

Yours faithfully JULIET SOLOMON London, N10 25 October