Political Turmoil

Following Brexit, the United Kingdom is now in crisis …

It has taken but a few days for political turmoil to erupt within the UK following the referendum decision to leave the European Union. Formal arrangements to quit under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty have not yet begun but the political and financial implications of the vote are already being felt. The Prime Minister has effectively abdicated from any responsibility to move things forward by stating that the procedure should be undertaken by his successor, who won’t be in place until early September 2016. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who had vehemently stated that an emergency budget would be needed in the event of a vote to leave, has also backtracked and is leaving any decision to a potential new Chancellor.

On the other side of the political fence, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is facing a mass revolt within his ranks. Unprecedented numbers have resigned their shadow cabinet posts in protest at the way Corbyn conducted his campaign to remain in the EU. It is claimed that insufficient party supporters were rallied and that he took a soft approach to EU membership, emphasising the need for change rather than the existing accrued benefits. Now the deputy leader of the party is calling for his resignation.

Once a new leader of the Conservative Party is elected, the country will, once again, be led by an unelected Prime Minister. This could easily lead to an impromptu general election later in the year, undoubtedly resulting in yet more political instability and uncertainty. To say the least, the referendum has opened a huge can of worms!

With regards to the referendum result, only 71.8% of the eligible voting population cast their vote. This means that Brexit with 52% of the vote actually only have the support of 37.34% of the people which is hardly a resounding mandate to leave. The largest demographic of the population supporting the leave campaign were over fifty years of age and many will have twenty years or less to endure the aftermath. At the opposite end of the demographic spectrum, the younger generation had a high majority vote to remain in the EU, seeing it as their future but that direction has now been paved by their elders.

The financial markets have tumbled with billions of pounds wiped off the value of blue chip companies. The pound sterling has lost value against leading currencies such as the US dollar and the Euro and trading in the shares of two leading banks was suspended on 27 June following heavy losses on the London Stock Exchange. Some companies are already announcing reductions in staff and the possible relocation of operations to other European countries. So much for the Brexit claim that the UK can stand alone. It is blatantly obvious why so many people are blatantly angry at the referendum result. After all, why should an aging population effectively decide the future of their country?

Whilst the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, much of what has happened since last Thursday’s devastating result was predicted by the former deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, when addressing his Liberal Democrats Party Conference in October 2014 …

“What are we fighting against? Imagine again what it will be like in 2020, but this time with the Conservatives in government on their own. Britain, diminished and divided after a botched attempt to renegotiate our relationship with Europe and a vote to withdraw from the European Union. Companies pulling out of the UK, left, right and centre, the markets losing confidence, hiking up our borrowing costs and halting the recovery in its tracks. Workers fearing for their jobs, not just because the companies they work for are plunged into uncertainty but because their bosses can fire them at will, no questions asked. The young and the working poor hit time and time again as George Osborne takes his axe to the welfare budget with no regard for the impact on people’s lives. Schools run in the interests of profit for shareholders rather than the life chances of their pupils. A Home Oofice state snooping on your emails and social media. Opportunity reserved for a few at the top and everyone else told to make do with what they’ve got. A Tory party leadership in hock to their right wing, desperately running after and pandering to UKIP’s ugly nationalism. A Prime Minister trapped between being a poor man’s Margaret Thatcher and a rich man’s Nigel Farage. “Compassionate Conservatism” just a sound bite from a bygone age.”

It is eerie that so much of this has come true and long before the year 2020. About the only thing Nick Clegg didn’t foresee was the unexpected resignation of David Cameron and the likelihood that Osborne won’t be Chancellor for much longer! He was right about overseas investors taking fright, money flowing out of the country, the credit rating being slashed, and that the Brexit team have no plans as to how to resolve any of the issues on which they campaigned.

Some people are calling for calm and reconciliation amidst the warring factions but with political turmoil at the helm, this is unlikely to happen any time soon. What we do need is respect for other people’s views but reconciliation will only happen when everyone is seen as equal and can enter into free dialogue about their fears, hopes and aspirations. At the moment, British society appears more divided than I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. Racism is sadly resurrecting itself and there is the ever-increasing danger of right wing extremism dominating our political map. I’m one of very many people who hope that the referendum result will be annulled and that the voices of many who voted Leave, and now regret that decision, will be heard. Whatever happens in the near future, there is little doubt that United Kingdom society is dangerously fragmented and on the precipice of a very high mountain so one can only pray for a peaceful solution.

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Ageism In The Workplace

For many people in this country, employment opportunities are being denied because of age…

Should someone now lose their job in their 40s or 50s, the chances of finding new employment in the UK presents a major challenge to even the most qualified of people. The media is now full of stories from older workers telling how they lost their employment through no fault of their own never to return.

Whilst official unempoyment figures may show that some 2.67 million people were seeking work as at mid February 2012, this figure fails to take into account those who may be in low paid part time employment and the many that fail to officially register with the Department of Work and Pensions. Other statistical analysis suggested that there were some 2.8 million people over the age of 45 without paid work in the UK as far back as September 2006.

On 1 October 2006 new laws were introduced to combat age discrimination in the workplace applying to staff under the age of 65. No longer will firms be able to deny an interview, refuse a job offer, deny training or sack someone under 65 on the grounds of age. Sadly this has had very little impact upon the attitude of employers towards the older applicant, yet it is something that is very difficult to prove. So why are so many people in their 50s and 60s without lucrative paid work?

One theory is that people feel discouraged to apply for jobs because of their age, whilst others attribute the inability to work because of health reasons. The older candidate is stereotyped as being inflexible, unable to adapt to new technology, and lacking creativity. They therefore fall outside the demographics of modern business methods. Whilst employers cannot specifically mention age in a recruitment advertisement, subtle phrases such as the ideal candidate will be expected to grow with the young company effectively exclude the older person from applying. In other words, discrimination is being shown but circumnavigates the law.

Another subtle form of discrimination against the older applicant are academic requirements. So many vacancies today specify a university degree, no matter how poor or irrelevant to the job in question that might be. This is fine for the younger applicant as at least 40% of school leavers move into higher education but some 30 years ago this figure was as low as 6%. This means that many older applicants do not meet the basic criteria and are therefore eliminated from the selection process. Potential employers overlook three important qualities here, namely that the older applicant will have considerable business experience, he or she is likely to be professional in their approach to work, and will undoubtedly be more reliable.

How times have changed! Back in the 1970s, nine out of 10 men over the age of 50 were employed. There was an attitude of respect towards the older worker, and in many industries, loyalty was rewarded. The next two decades saw a decline in traditional labour markets as industries closed due to a lack of competitiveness and in a period of rejuvenation, the emphasis on younger staff was born. Those who were in managerial or professional jobs have had most to lose if they were made redundant after their mid 40s.

With so many older people seeking new employment prospects, it is somewhat ironic that the government is forcibly extending the age before official retirement. Whilst this article is predominantly centred on the older generation of unemployed people, it must not be forgotten that there are currently over one million people seeking work in the 16-24 age bracket. Surely it would make economic sense to get some of these people into employment and training instead of prolonging the working life of those approaching retirement age.

Governments fail to acknowledge some of the major implications of long term unemployment. Firstly, people lose their self esteem and motivation as they see little to strive for in the future. In the case of a minority of younger people, this has led to recent riots, as individuals strive to make themselves heard in one way or another. For the older person, the onset of ill health is more prevalent as the mind ceases to function in a disciplined manner. Both scenarios subsequently put a considerable drain on the country’s resources, funds that could be used to support training for young people and, where necessary, paid to companies as an incentive to employ older applicants with the skills, knowledge and experience that are waiting to be exploited.

Anyone reading this who knows me will be well aware that I have first hand experience of age discrimination. Having been made redundant from a middle management position some years ago, I found it impossible to secure another position despite having had several interviews. Even recently, despite attending an interview for a position falling well below my skills and capabilities, the job was offered to a 30 year old! Whilst I am currently self employed and therefore not a statistic in the unemployment figures, I struggle to survive like so many people in a similar situation due to a considerable reduction in my workload over the last two years.

Common Courtesy

Another brief trip down memory lane…

Exactly seven years ago this month, most days seemed endless and extremely boring. I was in the early stages of living life without gainful employment and even though I would often grumble about the daily routine of work, it does give a purpose to each day. With typical dull, cold and wet British weather, I had little incentive to venture out of doors, thereby exacerbating an already strenuous situation. Almost daily, my life was taken up with searching for new employment. For anyone not over familiar with this task, it is an extremely time-consuming and wearisome occupation, endlessly scanning the plethora of job sites available on the internet. One of the most frustrating things I discovered was that jobs were not classified under sufficient headings, so in order to find potential opportunities, it was necessary to search under almost every category. Once the slowness of page downloads was taken into account, the hours of the day quickly passed by! Of course, this was in the days before ADSL broadband connectivity was widely available!

In order to try and numb my boredom, I participated in the National IQ Test 2003 via interactive television. This was the one bright spark in a gloomy month… Normally, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet (perhaps that’s where I have been going wrong in life!) but I achieved an IQ of 136 which compared very favourably with the national average of 105! This was also in a period when the average IQ had been falling.

With only twelve days of employment remaining, it was very evident that certain people were keeping their distance. It never ceases to amaze me just how many individuals see a person for what they do rather than for who they are; indeed, inconveniences such as a period of unemployment (through no fault of my own, incidentally!) can prove to be a real test of true friendship.

Looking back, I made one of my final day trips to France. This was predominantly for the purpose of stocking up on some cheap booze…I anticipated being in need of copious quantities to drown my sorrows! There was also time to enjoy some of the local scenery in close proximity to Calais and the weather was fine, in marked contrast to that in Britain at the time. I stated that it was one of my final day trips for several reasons. Firstly, the costs of such day trips are now much higher since the abolition of cheap day ferry tickets. Secondly, the cost of alcohol in this country is now comparatively lower than several years ago, and thirdly, I no longer live within reasonable travelling distance of Dover for the short crossing to northern France. The trip from my local port takes in excess of 6 hours and lands in Brittany!

A final word on the subject of seeking new employment. I found it both frustrating and extremely discourteous that companies seemingly ignored applications and correspondence. Even jobs applied for via e-mail failed to generate a response, despite the fact that it takes but a few seconds to acknowledge a communication with minimal cost. Incidentally, nothing has improved with regard to replies from companies as recent experience will testify. Perhaps I am old fashioned and expect too much from people, but if more common courtesy was extended between human beings, then the world would be a far better place.