First World Problems.

Donata Huggins writes a Telegraph Blog about “Life in the Westminster Village”. Whatever that means. You can find it over here :- http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/author/donatahuggins/ if you are really interested. She seems a nice enough stick. So I’ll try not to be too harsh.

Anyway, this week, Donata has decided to share with us her opinions upon the rumbling ongoing scandal of Jubilee Slave Labour. In Donata’s world, we are all making a slight fuss about nothing. Here’s what she has to say on the subject:-

“In the case of the Jubilee workers, it was good experience. Sure, the “bridge incident” that left the workers sleeping outside tarnishes this claim, but in principle it offered them the chance to learn new skills at no personal cost. They were bussed to London, clothed and given training that resulted in an NVQ in crowd safety. Not to mention that many of them had a good time.

Making sure people get work experience is important. Business groups have been complaining that young people are ill-equipped for working life for years. The CBI has even launched a campaign “Making young people ready for work”  to combat this. This is particularly true for graduates: from my university cohort, those who spent their summers interning were hired after graduation; those who didn’t floundered.”

Donata, actually, may have a germ of a point somewhere in there. It’s mainly a germ of a point, though. When I graduated from University I floundered for a while, and didn’t find work. And, I admit, I hadn’t spent my summers interning. I’d spent every term working evenings, mind you, and worked before Uni. The main reason I floundered would be the main reason most people floundered – because I graduated in the teeth of a recession. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme choose, as I believe those French fellows put it.

What young Donata is doing here is, of course, buying into the myth of meritocracy. In this world, the failure to get a job in the teeth of an enormous recession was, well, my failing. But, let’s be fair to Donata – she’s a band-aid kind of Tory, rather than your open wound kind, because she accepts that this isn’t my failing entirely, but a wider social issue. The only problem is that, yet again, the wider social issue is about education and training and preparation. She’s of the school that thinks every child can succeed in life given certain tools.

There are two problems with this approach, beloved of the soft right, and the pastel pink left. The first is that it ignores the real Macro issue – the real macro issue being, there aren’t enough jobs to go around because the economy is in a recession. Every young person in the country could go out and get the best education known to man, and the most complete and rounded work experience ever seen and there would still not be enough jobs to go around. And the nature of the economy means that the work that is there to go around is transient, unskilled and badly paid. Like a few months stewarding at the Olympics, for instance, which was the gorgeous carrot being dangled for the above peons (the stick was losing benefits, as always. Plus ca…oh, I’ve said that already).

The second problem is, of course, this slightly Panglossian view of the jobs market – where if we all get the right skills, everything works out for the best, in this best of all possible worlds – is that it ignores privilege. You see, for instance, Donata and I are already using a common language about Uni. That is one level of privilege, right there. It appears not to cross Donata’s mind in the slightest that the kind of people who get dragged out of bed to sleep under a bridge before spending a day doing unskilled labour so they don’t lose their benefits and get rewarded by a – gasp – NVQ in crowd safety are generally not the sort of people who have been to, or have the opportunity to go to University. To these unfortunate proles, it isn’t a case of not getting the proper job training, but a case of there are no bloody jobs, there will be no bloody jobs, and the jobs that will finally appear for them will be as transient and unsatisfying as the British summer time.

All that said, I wouldn’t have got irate with Donata on this issue, if she hadn’t moved on to the meat of her piece. Which is a tremendous piece of Privilege Woe, or what we may dub “First World Problems”:-

“a lot of unpaid work experience harms social mobility. You only have to look at the political internships listed on the w4mp website to see this. Just ask yourself if a full-time, 12-month, unpaid, unexpensed job with John Leech MPdoes anything for social mobility? For someone to do this job, someone else – usually the intern’s parents – needs to pay for their food, rent, travel and clothes for a year. The travel alone is too expensive for a low-income family: a Tube ticket for the year costs £2,136 at the moment.

The costs of interning were far too high for a friend of mine and her family. She had to spend two years working in a shop after graduation, saving before she could afford to commute to London to work for free. As a result, she got a graduate job three years later than my middle-class friends. It took her grit and determination to do it. Queues of people told her she was setting her sights too high. I admire her for sticking with it. Especially given that many other friends gave up trying.

Two weeks ago, all three political parties were clambering over each other to talk about social mobility. Perhaps they could start by offering a fair deal to their interns.”

Again, contained within this is a germ of a fair point. The fair point being, that the political classes of the country shouldn’t be able to use graduates as slave labour. You know, I agree with you Donata. They truly shouldn’t. But the point Donata is making is that *this* is the scandal, and it harms social mobility. The fact that perhaps 600 or so posts in the country(which allow the holders to build a network of contacts and experience par excellence)  will go to applicants from backgrounds wealthy enough to subsidise them for a year after University, rather than, say, to honest, cloth capped applicants from backgrounds errr wealthy enough to go to university in the first place.

Perhaps someone should explain to Donata that social mobility doesn’t describe movements within the middle class. Maybe a start. And maybe while they are at it, they could explain to her that being used for unskilled slave labour that will lead you to a short term, lowly paid post in a service industry is perhaps slightly more demeaning than spending your time hanging around with the legislators and wonks of the world, building up a lifetime’s worth of contacts that will sustain you in a *career*, rather than in a succession of low skill, near slave labour posts. Just a suggestion.

Maybe they could change her blog description as from “inside the Westminster Bubble”, while we are at it.

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