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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 27/02/2013

Workmen are redoing our road this week. It is pretty chaotic as you can imagine with lots of drilling and digging. One of them told us that they were getting dogs' abuse from some motorists who are even ignoring the road closed sign and then complaining about the danger to their vehicles.

Part of the reason I'm sure is the 'me first' culture that we now live in. No-one wants to be put out, or inconvenienced for anyone else. But I also suspect that workmen get abused because in today's new aspirational world they are looked down on.
 
One of the things that annoyed me most in recent years about New Labour was that their attempt to create an aspirational culture was inevitably leading to the denigration of low skilled jobs – jobs which as far as I could see weren't going to disappear. In other words, the politicians were encouraging us to look down on, and completely devalue, a lot of workers. Interestingly this wasn't always the case. Manual workers and others in society used to value the contribution that people made in real jobs and were much more dismissive of the contribution made by 'pen pushers' or gaffers. How times have changed.

I was also incredibly sceptical about Labour's claims that we were going to need  lots more lawyers and other professionals in the future. It seemed to me that an ageing population meant many more care workers. And we were always going to need a certain amount of manual labour if even just to repair the roads. Add in all those folk working in service sector jobs serving coffee or providing for tourists and that's a fair number of workers.

Inevitably the whole aspirational approach of Labour (and continued by the Tories) was encouraging many young people to have expectations of jobs that are often totally unrealistic.

Given my scepticism about this central area of policy I  could have cheered when I finally got round to listening to Radio 4's Analysis programme called 'Making the Best of A Bad Job' which is on this very topic.  It confirmed that low skilled jobs are on the rise and constitute about 30 per cent of the labour force in the UK. It also recounted how lots of white working class boys refuse to take up these jobs because 'they don't lead anywhere'. The tragedy is that these young men are better to have a job, even an unskilled one, rather than be unemployed in the long term. This hasn't been a huge issue in recent years as many of these low skilled jobs have been filled by immigrants but as their presence has proved unpopular with many people then this might not continue in the future.

The programme didn't even raise the question of paying people in low skilled jobs more money but it did consider ways that people's job satisfaction could be increased though giving more autonomy, for example.

It's really worth listening to the programme but if you don't want to spend the time you can have a quick shifty at the transcript.

For the record, what I've always thought we needed is an emphasis on making a contribution and being part of an inclusive society.  I've also always thought it particularly unfair that people who are working in adverse circumstances – working outdoors in all weather or in unpleasant surroundings or with dangerous machinery - should get recompensed properly for this and be respected for the contribution they make to our society.





 

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