Culture of … what ?

Short post today, drawing attention to a recent piece of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation into ‘the culture of worklessness’.  I am sure you’ve heard that there are families where no-one has worked for three generations, where welfare-dependency is a way of life.  Well, the Foundation looked into this and found out that it is … er … just not true.  The number of unemployed people whose parents are unemployed is pretty small, and the number whose grandparents haven’t worked is vanishingly tiny.  Where parents are unemployed, the children are determined to make a success of life and are strongly committed to a work ethic.  Middle class people with jobs sometimes delight in creating a nether world of their own imaginations, populated by a (right-wing view) shiftless or (left-wing view) powerless and victimised working class.  I remember being assured by an earnest community education worker in a Sheffield council estate that “no-one in that road has a job”, when the obvious social problem seemed to me the way that the new Mondeos and Escort vans were chewing up the grass verge.

So the culture of worklessness is not the problem.  Neither, as Jonathan Portes points out in an LRB review, is immigration.  Neither is over-generous welfare, as Seamus Milne shows in a recent op-ed piece in the Guardian.  The Rowntree report concludes that the best way to counter unemployment is to provide jobs.  But I think we knew that.

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