It’s so annoying when a savage animal gets into your flat, especially when it’s hell-bent on chewing at you until you’re nothing but a pile of bones. I’d say it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Luckily, late last year I managed to catch mine and lock it in a box. I reckon I’ve got another six months before it breaks out and starts chewing at me again.
I’m talking metaphorically, of course. By “savage animal”, I mean unemployment. If a real savage animal had got into my flat and started chewing happily away at me, I could probably call someone for help. Plus, unlike unemployment, if you locked a savage animal in a box for a year it would have the decency to die. I’m going to abandon this metaphor now, and not a moment too soon.
Ever since I took my frightening and humiliating situation of not being able to get a job and turned it into a gigglesome blog, my message of survival to fellow jobseekers was: “find a way to laugh”. I thought that was key to survival. For me – and for others, I hope – it was.
But now, someone is dead. Martin Hadfield, a qualified gardener, didn’t survive his jobhunt. After redundancy, 40 failed applications in three months and being offered nothing but a follow-up meeting at the jobcentre, he went home and hung himself.
He’s not the only one; the jobseeker death count in the UK alone is growing like a malignant tumour society refuses to have checked. Last year a PhD graduate jumped off a West London tower block because after over two decades of education, the only job he could get was in a call centre. Paul Willcoxson, fearful of the cuts because he was jobless with health problems, killed himself in April 2011. A year earlier, graduate Vicky Harrison, 21, took her own life after she was rejected for 200 jobs.
It seems now, more than ever, is a time to be giving young people messages of hope.
Sadly, the only meaningful messages of hope reaching people like Martin are coming from the most depressing source in the UK: UKIP. That message being: “You’re not the criminal here, take no notice of the Tories who treat you like scroungers, who palm you off with pointless follow-up meetings at the jobcentre while you get overlooked again and again. We know who’s really to blame here, and we’re going to stop it.”
The media reported that Martin was “demoralised”, because “he felt he was losing out to less experienced candidates who could be paid less”. If you’ll allow me to play dumb for a moment – what sort of person, despite being less experienced, “could” be paid less than Martin? Who are these people employers lunge at because their labour is – miraculously – cheaper than Martin’s? Was Martin asking for unreasonable, princely sums? Did his CV have the header “Take your minimum wage and triple it before you bother calling me”?
My hunch is that Martin felt employers were passing up the chance to pay him a legal wage when they could exploit “immigrants” instead. Now why would he think that?
“They’re after your jobs”
UKIP’s rising popularity is sad, but unsurprising. In a country blighted by joblessness, their message is short, simple and repeated: “immigrants are taking your jobs, and we’re going to stop it”. Why not believe them? The current government treat jobseekers like scroungers and criminals, so workshy that they would fake or exaggerate disabilities and refuse the rich, gooey slabs of delicious job offers they’re served on a daily basis. I can see why you might want someone else to be a criminal for a change.
Make no mistake, while UKIP are the only party speaking directly to white, working class men who think they’re being undercut by people who “can” be paid out of petty cash, they are just like their Tory counterparts: lunging to lick the filthy feet of the businesses to blame.
Allow me to break down the “immigrants are after your jobs” propaganda into all the dangerous little parts that might lead a guy like Martin to think there is no way out:
“Immigrants” are referred to as the problem, the bad guys, the ones “stealing” “your” jobs. Not people so desperate to be paid a sickeningly low poverty wage that they left their homes and their families behind. They talk about them as if they’re doing it for a laugh, as if travelling to a sodden, increasingly xenophobic island to do manual labour for illegally-low pay is the Eastern European version of a gap year.
What’s galling is that the real “bad guys”, the only ones committing a crime, are never demonised. The employers who, in order to save a few quid, plunge candidates like Martin into long, demoralising and fruitless jobhunts in order to exploit someone they can underpay, are conveniently left out of the discussion when they’re slinging blame around.
Remember when David Beckham was alleged to have had an affair with Rebecca Loos? More to the point, do you remember how the media covered it? They left us in no doubt as to who was to blame – the Other Woman, and the Wife. The Slag and The Nag. Odd, that, isn’t it? Because the only one who would have betrayed any trust by sleeping with another woman is the guy who, well, committed adultery. The same logic is applied to employers, they have what seems like total immunity when passing over The Useless Jobseeker to exploit The Bloody Immigrant. Odd, that, isn’t it? Because employers are the only ones committing a crime. It’s illegal to pay below minimum wage. It’s illegal to offer or accept “two Poles for the price of one” (a genuine offer made to someone I know who worked at a recruitment centre). And even aside from the law, it’s morally bankrupt to screw over both Martin and the “immigrant” who replaces him for less.
The real danger behind the message that “immigrants are taking your jobs” is it must make people like Martin feel utterly trapped. There are only two ways the government could actually solve that problem:
a) deport anyone who might be offered less than minimum wage for a job so they employers are left with no choice but to pay properly, and therefore have no reason not to hire people based on qualifications, experience, personality, willingness, and so on. Is that likely?
b) Start actually cracking down on employers who exploit the lowest bidder instead of hiring meritocratically. The dream. Will it happen? Will it testicles. As evidenced by the fact that rogue, criminal and generally scum-stuffed employers are never even mentioned as part of the problem Martin felt he was in.
Why are businesses never demonised by politicians? Because if they were to call them out for their exploitation of workers, their pollution or their tax avoidance it might drive them abroad. To a DIFFERENT COUNTRY. What a tragedy that would be. And in a bizarre twist of fate, that would make THEM immigrants! Ha ha… only kidding, obviously. If they went abroad, they’d be called “ex-pats”.
The saddest thing about the litany of jobseeker suicides is it shows how deeply ingrained the all-consuming power of business really is. In a better world, the unemployed would rise up, take on business and force change. Instead, society has made it clear businesses are all-powerful that their desires will always be prioritised over the rights of individuals. So the unemployed do not rise up. They see no way out. They internalise, retreat, and in too many cases, decide not to go on.
Is it time to get this tumour checked yet?
For more in the Grad Scheming series, have a look at…