This question springs from a melancholy observation: just about everyone in the service sector seems to speak English as a second language. Many of them hardly speak it at all.
That presents an interesting linguistic challenge for anyone seeking assistance in a supermarket or trying to book a medical appointment. Nor is it just the service sector either.
An unprecedented amount of construction and renovation, mostly residential, is going on in London. The city is densely covered with scaffolding, and the builders putting the scaffolds up and then working on them mostly swear in various Slavic languages.
Also, one gets the impression that all delivery vans must have a security device that cuts off the engine whenever a Briton born and bred gets behind the wheel. And I can’t remember the last time a cold caller tried to sell something to me in unaccented English.
Now you understand the question in the headline. What on earth are the Britons doing while immigrants do all the work? Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, he who often suffers the indignity of having his surname mispronounced by interviewers, has provided a cogent answer.
They live on government handouts, either by ‘throwing a sickie’ or simply refusing to look for work. The former category is so swollen with people on disability benefits, that one can safely conclude Britain has more cripples in 2023 than in the aftermath of either world war.
Mr Hunt has left malingerers alone for now. However, he is targeting professional shirkers for an avuncular rebuke. “Those who won’t even look for work do not deserve the same benefits as people trying hard to do the right thing,” he says.
I’d say that those who won’t even look for work don’t deserve any benefits at all, but such maximalism is alien to our putative conservatives. The government is only proposing to reduce payments for a while, not to stop them permanently.
In parallel, the national living wage will be raised to over £11 an hour, which amounts to over £22,000 a year for someone in full employment. That’s hardly a king’s ransom, but then people on such incomes don’t typically claim royal lineage.
Of course the problem is that those of them who know how to add up can figure out that, if they milk the benefits system for all it’s worth, they can do as well or better without ever doing a day’s work. The choice is a no-brainer: had I been able to make the same living, I myself wouldn’t have spent decades going to the office every morning.
The Chancellor estimates the number of professional shirkers at about 100,000, which strikes me as a huge underestimation. According to the Office of National Statistics, 36 million people (54.2 per cent of the population) now live in households that receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes.
It’s hard to believe that a mere 100,000 of them refuse to look for work, while the remaining millions are “people trying hard to do the right thing”. Let me tell you: they aren’t trying hard enough.
The jobs I mentioned above can’t be very difficult to get if migrants who can barely make themselves understood in English find them within days of arrival. How hard can it be to push a button and say “Dr Sawbones’s office”? Or ask a customer: “Will you have chips or mixed vegetables with that?”
I’d suggest that a lot more than 100,000 benefits recipients would be able to handle such onerous tasks, and most establishments in need of such personnel complain of woeful understaffing.
Hence I can offer HMG free advice that will solve several problems in one fell swoop. Every able-bodied person of working age should receive no long-term benefits at all, ever.
Just think of the problems such a decisive step would solve. First, there are billions in savings that the Exchequer could use for worthier purposes. Then, even more important, the moral health of society will greatly improve if all current freeloaders start doing an honest day’s work.
Also, while they are out at work they won’t be able to do the asocial things so many of them do to turn whole areas into hellholes. And as a fringe benefit, with less employment available for migrants, fewer of them will have an incentive to settle in Britain, legally or otherwise.
People with compassion in their hearts can be reassured that those on the receiving end of such unspeakable cruelty won’t starve. Given the extra incentive to find work, they’ll do so without much trouble.
Thomas Sowell, one of my favourite living thinkers, has done extensive research showing that people who’d do nothing to improve their current income are instantly energised when their basic necessities are under threat.
Again, my own experience confirms those findings: I used to be stuck in the same jobs for years when I could find better ones with a minimum of get-up-and-go. Yet I’d instantly turn into a beehive of activity whenever my safe jobs turned out to be very unsafe indeed.
My advice strikes me as sensible, and I’m sure Mr Hunt would agree – in private, over a pint. However, judging by the decibel volume of the enraged shrieks already greeting even his palliative proposal, he’d never be able even to hint at such meanness in public.
He’d stay in office for exactly as long as it would take him to write a ‘Dear Rishi’ resignation letter – and he knows it.
I can only conclude with a brilliant aphorism uttered by a retired politician I used to mock mercilessly, Jean-Claude Junker.
“Junk”, as I called him, once said: “We all know what to do. We just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.” Bravo, Junk. I can’t think of a better indictment of our whole political system.