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This day’s portion

Work if you want to

I’m thinking of doing a 30 day blogging challenge. I last ground out 30 more or less successive posts in September 2014, swearing I’d never put myself through it again. However, it’s been two long years since then, and it’s not as if nothing’s happened in the world that hasn’t warranted some response.

It’s work that’s on my mind. I will say upfront I’m lucky to have a job that I enjoy, even if it probably involves too many disparate responsibilities, and too many frustrating service providers.

I guess that puts me in a minority, but I’ve been in work since 1996, often in stressful or joyless jobs, less six months on the South America backpacker trail and three months looking for work in schools having decided I wanted to be a teacher. I’d simply resigned from my telecoms job after a manager announced a new project in a meeting, brazenly taking the credit for my work (imagine being able to just resign…)

Since then, unemployment has become a more and more disastrous, dehumanising experience, and more common, as we’ve moved even further away from the safety of a job for life.

Now, bearing in mind my nearly spotless work record over the last 20 years, and the no doubt eye-watering amounts of income tax I’ve paid, you’d think I’d be all for encouraging people into work. Commonsense might make me think Why should I work so much only for other people to live off the tax I’ve paid?

But no, I don’t think that at all. Quite the opposite. I suspect I’m in a very, very small minority here, but I actually think you should only work if you want to. If you don’t want to you should get (very generous) unemployment benefits (or, better still, a basic income).

Lots of reasons for this.

Look at the barefaced lies we tell about work: its availability, its desirability, its purpose, its quality, our ability to adapt to new technology, or just our actual physical or mental ability to do it all the time. Why lie? The obvious truth is that work’s a limited commodity, often poor quality, poorly paid and demoralising in the extreme.

Furthermore, there’s no economic reason to make people work all the time; we could, if we had the will, make sure unemployment wasn’t demeaning and ruinous. Implementing something like a basic income is achievable. We could build affordable housing for everyone if we actually wanted to.

But no, we’d rather punish unemployment, fetishise work and pretend we must do it in order to lead a meaningful life. We want limited housing so those of us who own property make tens of thousands a year on it. We want to feel virtuous for working.

Over the last 20 years I no doubt would have chosen not to work some of them. Fair enough, no? I’ve had two children, crap jobs and felt burnt out. My life would have been better without working all the time.

On the other hand, 20 years without working would have been worse. I want more money. I’ve enjoyed building websites, working in schools and for a library service.

I suspect most of us feel that many would choose unemployment over work (there’s a revealing truth in there, of course); that the country would soon fall apart as we spent our days in bed, getting up only to watch Doctors. But is that true? If there’s a real benefit to work beyond not living in total poverty, work is a good choice – when it’s available. But it should be a choice.