UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The servant problem

Just when you thought that you had read the ultimate drivel justifying welfare benefit cuts, another idiot makes the blood reach boiling point. The case in point this time is Janet Street Porter in Sunday’s Independent. In case you missed it, the entire piece is reproduced here:-

"One in four households now have servants, paid to carry out tasks we haven't the time or can't be bothered to do, according to a survey. Since the recession, more homes have three or more generations living together. In spite of this, more homes now hire in labor than in Victorian times; in 1870, one in six homes had paid help.

"So who are all these modern-day servants enabling us to emulate the tuffs in Downton? According to Frank Field, who advised David Cameron on poverty, they are immigrants willing to work for the minimum wage who have no qualms about doing menial tasks. The Home Office admits the number of Brits taking lower-skilled jobs has been falling over the past decade, while the number of foreign nationals has risen. If the servant class is a buoyant jobs market, how do we encourage young working-class Brits to change their mindsets?

"Frank Field says it's hard to justify paying benefits for an indefinite period if they live in an area where there are plenty of jobs. Why not redesign the last couple of years at school for non-academic kids, preparing them for work, teaching social skills, mentoring them and showing that the minimum wage is just a starting point. Cutting off benefit sounds brutal, but unless there's a radical rethink, foreign workers will soon take all these jobs. Young people need training to be ready for work, and it's got to start at 15 or 16 if we're keeping them at school until 18."

Where can you start with this claptrap? Ms Porter obviously falls for the Downton mythology, that domestic employment is a blissful state where benevolent employers provide for their social inferiors. Not that my grandmother remembered it that way. Like millions of others pre WW1, she spoke of a life of twelve hour days working for a pittance as a maid, meaning all manner of chores cleaning, doing laundry and dishes, to black-leading the grate and the range, ordered around by those whose own social standing was based on domestic dictatorship. That remains the reality. How many “domestics” ever earn more than the minimum wage? Check the small ads for so called au pairs. The rate per hour is rarely quoted, as it would not meet the legal minimum.

Minimum wage labour remains a route to in work poverty, not a route out of it. Fact. But Ms Porter, and apparently Frank Field, Labour Traitor and adviser to David Cameron believe that young people ought to be grateful for the chance to serve; so grateful that the “non academic” kids should have their education redesigned to prepare them for the servant life.

It would be interesting to know how these non academic kids are going to be recognised . Presumably Eton will not have a “non academic” stream. Nor Harrow and probably none of the fee paying sector. Perhaps they will enjoy lessons on how to make the best use of the new servant boom. So who will it be? On an inspired guess, working class kids who attend the local state sector? Just to be sure, in a “radical rethink”, benefits to these kids will be cut. Accept your lowly place in society or starve; Victorian morality at its worst .

What happens to social mobility then? It goes from bad to worse . The bottom of society will go back to knowing its place and apparently touching its forelock. Just what century are these people living in?

Like many others my grandmother escaped to the munitions factories. Equally hard, dangerous work but at a union rate for the job that recognised the skill required.

If the best that these so call intellectuals can come up with is a return to the warped values of the Victorian era , they should retire from the public fray. Perhaps some Tory out there needs a good subservient, obsequious butler or perhaps Ms Porter could put her master chef talent to the test cooking for the gentry, buttoning her famous mouth as she does so, as answering back is not permitted below stairs, as she would soon find out. Of course their solutions don’t apply to them!
No one would miss them and no one should listen to them. The creation of skilled quality employment is obviously beyond, but is the only acceptable solution in the 21st century.

Jane Carolan