Letter: Solutions to unemployment need political will

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is unlikely that many of the developed world's 35 million jobless were holding their breath in anticipation of what would emerge from the G7 'Jobs Summit' in Detroit. The summit was never going to produce anything approaching agreement on either macroeconomic policy or structural reform and the concluding set of bland 'principles' was all that could have been expected. It would none the less be a mistake to dismiss the summit as pointless. The Clinton administration should be congratulated for raising the stakes in the global fight against unemployment and it was particularly refreshing that the US contribution placed analysis and practical solutions above purist dogma of either the 'free market' or 'interventionist' variety.

Sadly, within the British debate on jobs, dogma continues to prevail over pragmatism. The welcome fall in unemployment announced yesterday may provide further fuel for the Government's 'flexible labour market' rhetoric - but ministers are deluding themselves if they think that the de facto 'work sharing' (resulting from the shift toward part-time jobs) that underlies the fall in unemployment since January 1993 is alone sufficient to close the gaping 'jobs deficit'. By the same token, however, those who emphasise the need for a 'skills revolution' in order to create both more and better jobs say little about the obvious limits to training as a solution to joblessness.

The way forward for employment policy is to combine measures to build a 'smart society' - consisting of highly productive and well-paid workers - with those that ensure that the less skilled and less able can make a valid contribution to the economy without being reduced to penury as demand for unskilled work recedes.

In particular it will be necessary to find ways of supporting in work the incomes of people unable to command a living wage and/or to lower the cost of employing them by means of direct subsidy or lower payroll costs.

Ideas for achieving a much better outcome are not in short supply, as the article by Geoff Mulgan ('Just the job for the Nineties', 16 March) clearly testifies. All that is lacking is the political will. Perhaps Britain could benefit from an all-party 'Jobs Summit' of its own to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous 1944 White Paper Employment Policy, which set as its objective the achievement of a 'high and stable' level of employment. The least unemployed people deserve is for our political leaders to recognise the centrality of employment to economic and social life and address the issue with the seriousness and open-mindedness it deserves. As they might say in Detroit, 'It's jobs, stupid]'.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN PHILPOTT

Director

Employment Policy Institute

London, SE1

16 March

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