Labour shortages, miraculously solved

Post-Brexit Britain, according to the CBI

Archimedes crying “Eureka!” in his bath, Paul’s Damascene experience, Mendeleyev seeing that Table in his sleep – sometimes it’s a flash of inspiration rather than sequential thought that produces great discoveries.

Far be it from me to compare myself with those giants. But I too have miraculously seen a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem: labour shortages caused by declining EU immigration.

According to the Office for National Statistics, perhaps ‘problem’ is too gentle a word. Last year, and I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it, only 75,000 EU citizens graced these shores with their presence – compared to 165,000 the year before.

Since their overall presence still rose, the catastrophe is only impending, not already upon us. But, if the trend continues, the ceiling will fall in shortly.

At least that’s what the CBI director Neil Carberry thinks: “It is becoming more difficult to recruit the people that businesses need… Fewer EU workers coming to the UK is a significant factor in these shortages.”

In other words, before long Britain will screech to a halt. No smoke will be coming out of the few remaining smokestacks, no computers will be programmed, no shares will be flogged in the City.

Above all, sandwich shops and greasy spoons will shut down, leaving most Britons severely undernourished. That’s the impression one gets listening to the cries for help coming out of the British Sandwich and Food to Go Association, an organisation that has hitherto suffered from a low brand recognition among, well, me.

Let me put it in pictorial terms. Look up the old photographs of the Great Depression and multiply the misery by 10 – that’s the near future we’re facing should we get less than a full complement of post-Brexit Romanians.

You must agree that this insurmountable problem can’t be solved by any rational process. But, where ratio fails, divination succeeds – specifically, false modesty aside, my divination.

I was about to resign myself to the coming doom when the skies opened, lightning flashed, and a booming voice spoke to me from high above: “Why don’t we fill the shortages with British people currently on benefits?”

I fainted momentarily, but, when I came to, I looked up the relevant statistics. And what do you know, our native resources appear adequate to the task of offsetting the shortfall of Romanians.

An impressive 50.5 per cent of the UK population are net dependents on the state, meaning they receive more in benefits (including those in kind) than they pay in taxes. Now you may argue that many of those dependents are unable to support themselves fully even though they work hard.

Clearly some sort of matrix is required, juxtaposition of different sets of data. So here it is: 21.3 per cent of Britons between ages 16 and 64 are economically inactive, meaning they haven’t sought work in the past four weeks and won’t do so for the next two.

Translating relative into absolute numbers, that’s over 8,100,000 people ready to take in the Romanian slack. I’m generously prepared to accept that half of the economically inactive are unable to work for whatever reason. That still leaves some four million potential workers chomping at the bit.

How many of them haven’t sought work for years, not just in the past four weeks? How many have never sought it, and neither have their parents? I don’t know. The data may be available somewhere, but I’ve been unable to find them.

Let’s just say that many economically inactive Britons fall into the statistically elusive but substantively clear-cut category of Able-Bodied Lazy Gits (ABLGs). They won’t work and feel they don’t have to because they can do better on benefits.

Now what would happen if those benefits were to be removed? Not wholesale, God forbid. I wouldn’t even dream of dismantling the welfare state for fear that the next lightning will smite, not elucidate. No, I’m only talking about stopping benefits for those who won’t work, not those who can’t.

Now sociologists answer this question without having to resort to divine assistance. They identify two main inducements to working hard: one, the need for the basic necessities of life; two, the desire to improve one’s present condition.

Of the two, the first one is infinitely stronger. The need for food, shelter, clothes and PlayStations focuses the mind more powerfully than the desire to swap a Vauxhall for an Audi.

Hence the measure that came down to me from heaven will draw hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of ABLGs into employment. But will they be able to hold their own in the marketplace?

Possibly not at the high end. A Kent University professor complained yesterday that many of his first-year students can’t quite place the Duke of Wellington’s name and think that the assassination of JFK triggered the First World War.

If that’s the standard of university students, one can see why the British consistently rank close to Europe’s bottom in literacy and numeracy.

And one can understand why this happened. The same noble impulse towards equality, which is to say reducing everyone and everything to the lowest common denominator, that gave us the welfare state also gave us comprehensive education, which comprehensively doesn’t educate.

Hence I’m not sure how many of the ABLGs can become systems analysts or fund managers. But note that the loudest SOS came not from the City but from the British Sandwich and Food to Go Association.

One has to retain enough faith in British ingenuity to believe that even our comprehensive non-education may suffice for the task of flipping pizzas, serving BLTs and asking “Anything to drink?”.

Moreover, every house cleaner I know in London comes from Eastern Europe. Surely one doesn’t have to know the difference between JFK and Archduke Ferdinand to be able to operate a Hoover? And even scaffolding or plumbing may well be within the reach of those Britons who are willing to work – especially if they know they have to.

…I suppose the aforementioned bolt of lightning must have clouded my senses and I lost touch with reality.

Of course the welfare state is economically sound and morally elevating, our comprehensive education is the best in the world, and Britain will go to pot without Romanian charladies – even if they come packaged with Romanian pickpockets.

How silly of me.

2 thoughts on “Labour shortages, miraculously solved”

  1. Indeed. The Welfare State was designed, to quote Beveridge, as a ‘safety net’ to support those who can’t – not as a lifestyle choice for those who won’t.

    Incidentally, why do these people have the vote? Surely the people who should have a say in how the country is governed are those that pay for it?

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