Dr Kieran Mullan works in national health policy and as a junior doctor in A&E. He contested Birmingham Hodge Hill in the 2015 general election.
At the Lord Mayor’s Banquet last month Theresa May described the world as having been transformed in the last few years, arguing we are at a ‘moment of change’. Change is in fact the defining feature of the 20th and 21st Centuries, not just the last few years.
There has been profound change to every and all parts of our lives, without any historical precedent. We need to recognise this is about much more than just jobs and immigration and understand the scale of the challenge.
When we know what to expect and what’s expected of us, we feel secure, have a sense of identity, and can set and achieve goals – at work, with our families and friends, or in society as a whole. How do we expect people to feel secure and be productive when in so many areas what to expect and what is expected of us has been in an almost constant state of change for the past 70 years and with no sign of slowing up?
Family life, the world of work, travel, social norms, cultural and religious identity, and new fields like advertising and social media – all in a seemingly constant state of flux. How can parents bring up children to be successful in a world that is almost entirely different to the one they grew up in?
People are being left behind: people brought up to believe strongly in what were moral norms for their parents. People not taught the coping mechanisms for a world in which you are bombarded with images of expensive things you can’t afford. People struggling to feel comfortable without a clear sense of social identity (whether that be your religion, class or ethnicity). People who don’t have the cognitive skills to do anything but non-skilled employment.
Government shouldn’t seek to roll back the clock, nor it should take the approach of the liberal elite and just blame people and label them as xenophobic, bigoted, backward, racist or stupid. But it needs to do much more than it has been doing to help.
By looking at just one area, we can demonstrate clearly how Governments are increasingly falling behind in helping people keep up across the board. ‘Whitelash’ will only get worse if there isn’t a more effective response. Let’s look at jobs.
In 300 years we’ve moved from the preceding 20,000 years of more than 90 per cent of our population living a subsistence life as hunter/gatherers to less than five per cent working in agriculture. Half of that change has occurred in the last 100 years alone.
Over the last 50 years we’ve seen equally fundamental change, as we’ve seen yet another transformation from manual labour of one kind or another to service and IT jobs that barely existed half a century years ago.
That is worth repeating. In the developed world, most jobs available to people now are jobs that did not even exist 50 years ago.
What has the response been in the developed world? Have we seen an equally rapid and ongoing rise in investment in education and training, and supporting people to move careers at the speed at which they appear and disappear now? No.
After the initial, then very radical and necessary introduction of schooling to 16, the response has really boiled down to welfare or protectionism. If you don’t earn enough we will set a minimum wage. If you still don’t earn enough the state will top up your income. And if that doesn’t work, we will protect you from losing your job by putting in place trade barriers.
We should have been putting all our effort into helping people keep up with change, not protecting them from the impact of falling behind.
This means a radical rethink. Millions of jobs have been lost to technology and millions more are going to disappear in the next 50 years. In the UK the apprenticeship drive is a good start, but what proportion of these jobs are lifelong?
What proportion of any jobs employing people today are going to be around 20 years from now, let alone 50? If driverless cars were introduced tomorrow, would our system really be fit for purpose for finding hundreds of thousands of tax and lorry drivers new livelihoods?
The modern employee needs to be on an ever evolving career path. We need a new emphasis on a system of lifelong education for adults. It needs to be as comprehensive as the shift to mandatory schooling for children.
Most of the billions we are due to spend on physical infrastructure would be better spent on equipping people for the modern economy by making this adult education affordable and sometimes free.
I would also swap any future increase in the minimum wage with an obligation on big employers to constantly offer training to even their lowest paid employees. Everyone should be on a jobs ladder of one kind or another.
Future welfare spending should be redirected in the same way. Instead of fighting over spending on money to help families make ends meet, any money saved in future should be redirected to these new adult in-work training and education programmes so people can improve their own income instead of relying on the state to do it for them.ui
But acting on just education and jobs is not enough. We need to do more across all the areas of change the everyday citizen is facing, or 50 years from now the division between those keeping up and those falling further and further behind will be even greater. The US is demonstrating how destructive that division can be. Let’s take heed of the warning.