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White, British and desperate for work – my five years on the scrapheap

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PRITI Patel, self-styled headmistress from hell, wants to get the British working again, all of them. She says eight million Brits are ‘economically inactive’, so idle they don’t even collect their dole money, presumably spending their time hypnotised by watching on-line porn and eating pizza.  

She plans to stop importing cheap labour from Europe and push fat white Brits into our 810, 000 job vacancies, 110,000 of them in the ‘care sector’. She’ll somehow have to persuade farmers and the owners of coffee shops not just to take them on but to pay them enough to keep them interested.

Priti’s plans are being vilified by the CBI, the charity Carers UK and KPMG, representing a network of firms which estimate that the UK hospitality sector requires 62,000 EU migrants a year to maintain its current prosperity. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Importing cheap labour suits many powerful groups as well as the pizza scoffers. As a middle-aged English woman who wanted to work, it gave me a five-year nightmare.

I unexpectedly lost a well-paid job in 2005, a year after Tony Blair relaxed immigration controls when ten new nations including Poland, Lithuania and Hungary were admitted to the EU. At first, I was happy to lose it after being in the same office for fifteen years, but I miscalculated the market. The man who sacked me went upstairs to head the whole newspaper group, putting him in charge of all the papers I might have written for. No one there would dare employ me or even be seen with me in the street, and the newspaper industry had seriously contracted. I was out in the cold with two mortgages and a cat to support.

I thought I’d go for new things that interested me. There was a job advertised writing publicity for the Natural History Museum. The posh lady who interviewed me was apologetic, saying they’d decided to get someone ‘in house’. I liked it there so I wondered about being a guide. All those I spoke to were Portuguese and very young. One told me that she’d been recruited, like the others, through an agency, using an EU website offering hundreds of jobs in the UK though none in her own country. She was bitter that the agency took most of her wages but young enough to enjoy an adventure in London.

I tried the Museum of London, one of my favourite places. For the first time I was asked about my sexuality. In desperation I ticked ‘lesbian’ on the application form as I honestly believed it would help my prospects, but worried a bit about keeping up the pretence if I got the job. Being ‘The Museum of London’, they also wanted a degree in history and some Polish or Punjabi.

I happen to have the first two, but didn’t get an interview. It was no good trying other galleries. The National Gallery at that time was employing East European youths as attendants who would get you in a head-lock if you got too near the paintings.

I gave up on interesting jobs and had a look at the local café. A Polish woman told me scathingly but at least honestly that I was too old at forty-eight. I wasn’t Polish enough either. I went to a cleaning agency. They didn’t like me as I hadn’t done it before, and their workers were girls from Chile. 

The local Morrisons had acres of tills adorned by middle-aged women, all Asian. The shelf-stackers were young Asian men who laughed when I asked about doing it. I tried a care home. The manager told me she employed young African men who were willing to work twelve-hour shifts for low pay which, importantly, she said, they sent home to support their families. Globalised altruism was important to her but she had no interest in helping me.

I tried to become a doctor’s receptionist, the final outpost for ageing white women. Nearly got it, but it went to someone they already knew.

My job search lasted for five years. I wrote a piece about it for the London Evening Standard. The head of ‘human resources’ at the Museum of London wrote a letter to the paper saying I was ‘the last person’ he would ever employ. True: I was white, British and over forty.

I was forced to do what all washed-up no-hopers do: teaching. I approached a prison and they accepted me, hardly any questions asked. It reminded me of when I moved to London in 1983 and applied to be a nursing auxiliary. They measured me for the uniform at the first interview. A sure sign that you are ‘in’.

I look back and laugh but at the time I found my exclusion from the British job market terrifying and depressing. I was not represented by an agency from Europe so I had no chance to work in any British institution except a prison.

At the time young people, many of them highly skilled, were pouring in, happy to take rock bottom wages. We were on the way to creating a slave economy. It wasn’t just bad for us. A friend in Poland complained that almost all her neighbours had gone to England, marriages had broken down, villages and small towns were deserted. A woman she knew had gone to work in a care home in Cornwall, one of the most job- and income-deprived places in the UK. Yet jobs there were going to people from Krakow. 

Since Tony Blair opened the borders we’ve had a toxic mix of the greed of employers and the parlous state of the British work force, divided so rigidly between the professional classes and all the rest. The work ethic, that vital link between work and self-respect, has been terribly dissolved and ordinary people progressively de-skilled.

Will Priti be able to chivvy obese, inactive Brits back to work? Having explained to them what exactly work is, how you need to turn up, on time, almost every day, and do a good job, she will then have to find people to pay them more than a pittance. She will also need rapidly to educate them. The golden years for employers will be over but if she can manage to get the British back to work, they will have to stand back like the rest of us and witness a miracle. 

This article first appeared in the Salisbury Review online.

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Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly was a journalist with the Daily Mail for fifteen years. She now writes for the Spectator and the Salisbury Review.

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