Last weekend I unearthed a most wonderful piece a 25-year-old unemployed young woman sent as a letter to the Guardian in 1985, mid-Thatcher era, and which the author recently reproduced in her blog.
Even though it was written 26 years ago, the content is as relevant as if it had been penned this morning.
Fed up with getting nowhere with job hunting through the JobCentre, Kim Blake Baker decides to stop looking for work and, instead, spend her days writing novels on an “ancient borrowed typewriter”. For that, she becomes a much happier person, who is interested in and enjoys life.
Her insight into the devastating effects of long-term unemployment is surprisingly mature for a young lady. She talks about the impact of long-term unemployment not only on those who suffer its effects directly, but also on the next of kin: the parents’ sense of helplessness, marriages that crack under the strain of financial stress, even children feeling guilty about birthdays and Christmases.
In the meantime rejections to job applications pile up, despair increases by the day, while everyone labels you a benefit scrounger… Nothing changes.
Baker, now 51, proved by example that there IS an alternative to the endless pursuit of misery. Her letter provoked a “furore”, and “sackloads of letters” came pouring through her door (this was pre-email times) in response. One person “someone reported [her] to the DHSS (the current Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)) for not actively looking for work”…
Baker says in her letter:
“[…] there is an alternative. By refusing to accept the ‘work ethic’, which is not the same thing as ‘a day’s work for a day’s pay’, which measures a person’s total worth in terms of whether he or she works at all, you can stop the rot. If you accept that continually chasing non-existent jobs is harming you, and that by not doing it you can be a healthier and happier person – and have time to devote to whatever it is you would really like to do, be it brewing homemade beer, or reading, or gardening, or learning judo – then you can start to respect and value yourself again. You can truthfully tell yourself that it is not your fault that you do not have a job; you have tried and it did not work out. That too is not your fault.”
Her comment about the government of the time still rings true:
“The last thing that the Britain of the 1980s needs is a government without understanding, without vision, and without even the most superficial regard for large sections of its populace.”
Whether it is actually feasible for the unemployed to follow in Baker’s footsteps in 2011, and be successful, is a debate for another day, but her chutzpah and her resilience in the face of hardship filled me with inspiration and pride.
Kim Baker, I give thee a standing ovation.
Read Kim’s blog in full here.