The Slow Poison of Unemployment – and a Possible Antidote?

January is the time that the media reflects on the year that has just passed, achievements that have been made and lives that have been lost; reflections that so often just reflect on the lives of the famous in our celebrity obsessed society. Yet the mood as we move into 2012 is far from celebratory; economically we are in a mess and there are a number of significant societal problems that remain to be solved. I cannot remember such a sense of doom and despondency and a collective feeling of foreboding with even the most optimistic pundits believing there will be at least one more year of recession.However, in all this analysis and statistical data about economic forecasts we can be sanitised from the reality of peoples’ lives. The majority of us thankfully will survive the recession, albeit perhaps poorer than we were in 2008. Equally a small minority of the super rich will have prospered during these difficult times, widening the inequalities between the very rich and the poor as they accumulate obscene amounts of wealth. Figures can tell us many things but they cannot tell us the pain, worry and despair that many people in society feel: people who have no hope and no sense of a future.

One of the biggest problems in our society is the young unemployed. This is a waste of talent and also human health. Unemployment is not just an economic issue; it has repercussions for a persons health, wellbeing and emotional state. The unemployment statistics tell us the numbers unemployed; what they don’t tell us are the other consequences. It is as much a public health issue as an economic issue and yet we largely ignore the health issues.

Work gives us many things apart from money – it gives us status and companionship and it can also provide interest, stimulation and structure. If, that structure is taken away, or is never put in place, the consequences can be devastating. What I found striking in 2011 was the increasing numbers in our society who have no hope, no future and no sense that things will change.

Like so many problems, merely addressing the presenting problem of unemployment does not address the underlying issues which could be low skills, mental health, housing, drugs, alcohol and many others. To address the issue of unemployment needs more innovative, creative and empowering solutions which involve the unemployed in developing the solutions.

My hope for 2012, therefore, is less posturing and pontificating from above and more involvement: a co-designed approach to an intractable problem. Such an approach may actual contribute to the rebalancing of the economy which all politicians recognise needs to happen.

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