They don’t make them like that anymore

I just chatted to the young man behind the counter at M&S, a 20-year-old from Uzbekistan called Bekhzod. He spoke flawless English, although I don’t think he was born here. He had been out partying with friends last night, before turning up at work at 6am.

He went on to explain he worked 20 hours a day, six days a week. When he saw my chin drop, he quickly said it was because he is building his own house, and needs the money. He is also running his own business. He said, when I wondered how he keeps this pace up, “Oh, it’s OK. I sleep every night.” (But for how long?!) Pleasant, friendly, open, softly spoken, and damn hardworking.

I find it hard to imagine that many young (or old) people in this country have the constitution for that sort of work ethic. It is not easy to make a decent living from work that pays £7/hr, with the living costs being what they are.

Apparently the government seems to think fewer should have access to higher education – never mind whatever manufacturing industry is left is much reduced since its heyday. The cuts targeted at universities can only be interpreted that way, from where I am standing. And British youth are supposed to be able to hack it with that sort of competition?

Note that I am not at all in favour of right wing policies. Ability and willingness matters, not ethnic origin. In fact I suspect many employers would struggle to run their businesses, especially in the service sector, if they could not employ people from other countries. I don’t even think it is about undercutting hourly wages – I just don’t think British people in general are prepared to work that hard (my excuses to constitutional workaholics who just cannot help working unfashionably hard).

But what are ordinary, soft-skinned British young people supposed to do, if they are not going to higher education? I am not even taking the NEETs in to account here. It would be presumptious of me to suggest I have the slightest clue as to how to deal with that problem.

Those who do not have direct contact with such mysterious entities as ordinary young people are probably quite prepared to start spouting cliches like “well, they just have to toughen up and get on with it”, etc. But I am afraid that is a rather narrow view of the issue. On an individual level I am sure some or even many could do with a bit of a reality check, but it seems a bit rich that those who have thrived on cheap credit for a couple of decades should take the moral high ground.

I think it is daft in extreme to expect things to revert to the “good old days” when everyone knew their place and didn’t aspire above their station – people are right to have expectations of life, and should have opportunities to make it happen. Trashing higher education just doesn’t seem to be a clever move.

Anyway, enough pontification. But can I please just make farty noises at the concept of “Big Society”?


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