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'More Jobs' Isn't a Good Enough Unemployment Policy: What Is Work?

Updated on May 9, 2017

The current General Election in the United Kingdom was always going to be dominated by one topic. But when talk of Brexit does momentarily subside, it’s the same tired issues that are being discussed: immigration, jobs, unemployment. Whilst the first issue is perhaps the most toxic, it is the discussion around jobs and unemployment policy that is particularly dull and uninspiring.

One common perspective on this issue appears to be that most people are fundamentally lazy and do not wish to work, and that measures need to be taken to encourage people into waged employment by making it virtually impossible to live in dignity without it. Even those with more positive assessments of human nature seem to believe that the extent of the issue is a lack of waged and salaried jobs, and therefore that the solution is in creating more such jobs.

What Is Work?

Everyone seems to agree that unemployment needs to be addressed, but nobody seems willing to engage thoughtfully or creatively with the subject. Nobody wants to have a meaningful discussion about the nature of work and its role in society, or what it really means for a person to be unemployed.

In pubs and around dinner tables across the land, where ordinary life is being played out, it is clear that we truly are all aching in much the same way – and that we seek to remedy the ache with things that give human life meaning: relationships, art, and work. By work we are not talking simply about wages or salaries: we are talking about productive or creative activity which provides fulfilment and satisfaction. Work is that activity which enables the individual to make their contribution to the society in which they live, and which simultaneously enables them to express their individuality within it.

'More Jobs' is a popular campaign promise, but it isn't a valuable unemployment policy
'More Jobs' is a popular campaign promise, but it isn't a valuable unemployment policy

A New Attitude to Unemployment Policy

Unemployment is indeed one of the great afflictions of mankind, but creating ‘more jobs’ alone does not remedy the situation. Even most people with jobs are unemployed. Of course people in modern society need money in order to meet their basic human needs for food and shelter, but the basic need for meaning and purpose in life is often neglected. People don’t just need jobs: they need work. They need opportunities to throw themselves into the things they’re passionate about, to have a positive impact on the people around them, and to express their sense of identity and self-worth.

If there is to be meaningful change on this point, it must come from the individual. It must come from a radical reassessment of our priorities in life, and our sense of who we are and who we can be. Human beings have a deep-rooted need for purpose in life, and consequently naturally want to work. By engaging with the question of what work really is – and discussing what it is that gives work value and dignity – we can entirely reframe the debate on unemployment, and construct a discourse – and a society – that is worthy of ourselves.

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