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City Journal Spring 2014.
City Journal Current Issue
NEW BOOK FROM THEODORE DALRYMPLE:
The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.
NOT WITH A BANG BUT A WHIMPER:
The Politics and Culture of Decline

by Theodore Dalrymple
Not With a Bang But a Wimper.
 
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Theodore Dalrymple
Britain’s Sham Unemployment Drop
The U.K. goes further down the road to serfdom.
28 January 2005

The British election campaign opened with the sudden appearance everywhere of advertisements extolling the Labour Government’s economic record. The unemployment rate, say the ads, is the lowest in 29 years.

The claim is true, in a sense, but it is a statistical sleight of hand. If to the numbers of the unemployed you add the numbers of those not working due to (alleged) chronic sickness, you get more or less the same figure for the last 20 years: about 3 million. What has changed is only the ratio of unemployed to sick.

Everyone (except the enfeebled opposition) benefits from this change. The government can say it has eliminated unemployment. The unemployed receive a small amount of extra funding from the state for their alleged incapacity. And the doctors connive at it all, and give people “sick certificates”, because a refusal often offends, and they do not want a confrontation with patients. Such conflicts are increasingly acrimonious and even violent in Britain.

The growing number of people allegedly unable to work due to illness is strange, because the health of the population has continued to improve. But in truth, no one now expects what are known as sick certificates to indicate actual illnesses: when I ask my patients why they are “on the sick,” as they call it, the only explanation they can give is that they receive a sick certificate. And when asked why they receive a sick certificate, they reply, “Because I’m on the sick.” Even alcoholics get a little extra money to spend on the drink that makes them sick in the first place (though most of it returns to the Treasury in the form of a tax on alcohol).

Actually, things are far worse even than this. The government has kept unemployment down by creating government jobs—non-jobs, in other words. The ranks of managers in the increasingly Sovietized Health Service (the largest employer in the country) grew 17.6 percent in the last year alone. The number of people working in the medical records department of the prison where I work recently increased from 2 to 5, with, of course, an entirely predictable decrease in efficiency—a decrease that could be remedied only by the employment of yet more staff.

A glance at the job pages of the liberal newspaper, the Guardian, or the Health Service Journal, the monthly magazine of National Health Service bureaucrats, is sufficient to demonstrate that public money is now expended on a large scale to create employment not merely of low productivity but that actively retards genuine productivity. Every week there are ads for hundreds of highly paid “facilitators” and “co-ordinators,” whose job titles convey no actual tasks to perform beyond collecting a salary. My hospital has a director of diversity, a woman of outstanding geographical and historical ignorance, who sent us a circular to say that refugees from the Congo – of whom there are now many in our area – speak Arabic and in many cases are Muslims.

Britain is fast transforming itself into a Peronist state (we had our Evita in Princess Di), where officials use government employment to manufacture political loyalty and hand out public contracts based on connections to the apparatus of power. The damage done to Argentina remains unrepaired half a century later; the long-term outlook for Britain is not much better.

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More by Theodore Dalrymple:
To Have or to Be?
Cruel When Not Kind
Why Europe Sleeps
More . . .
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