In the 1980s Poles, Bulgarians and others came to the UK, many without skills, and they learned the skills required to make a living. They lived sometimes 10 to a house to save money, worked on building sites and learned all the trades.
They were way over-qualified (at home) for the work they did here. Lawyers, doctors, digital engineers and university professors worked as nannies, or cleaners or builders in the UK. At the time they weren’t allowed to work at the jobs for which they were professionally qualified.
Norman Tebbit was roundly condemned in the 1980s for his ‘my dad got on his bike and searched for work’ speech. And it was, to put it mildly, insensitive coming from a lower middle-class Tory. But it was, in its way, prophetic. The UK’s former working class, became largely an underclass of long-term unemployed. They stuck two fingers up at Tebbit. And then settled into 30 years of an expanding benefit culture.
Doctors as builders; lawyers as nannies
So why did doctors, lawyers and engineers come from eastern Europe to the UK to do work for which they were fantastically overqualified? They did it with dreams of a better life. Living in crowded houses allowed them to send money home to help their families. But they also bought property back home. Some went back home when circumstances allowed. Others made homes and families in the UK. They work hard, pay tax and send their children to British schools.
Which begs the question: If university educated people with professional qualifications were prepared to move to another country to do manual work, why did our own people not do likewise?
Why did they not figure out that if they moved to the next town, or the next county, or from the north to the south the same principles applied?
The UK’s longterm unemployed were not doctors, or lawyers, or university lecturers. They were steelworkers, miners and factory workers. If a qualified doctor from the Czech Republic was willing to leave family behind, come to the UK and work as a builder, living two or three to a room to keep expenses down, why did our own unemployed, mostly unskilled or skilled manual workers, not take similar actions?
Possible reasons might include the decline of the secondary modern school and polytechnics, where the less academic (a sizeable majority of our population) would have gone before Comprehensives; and the devaluing of trades and manufacturing both in the social hierarchy and in government investment priorities.
The envy culture
But we must also look to television and other media that have created an envy culture and a sense of entitlement to rewards without the necessary effort. Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘10,000 Hours’ rule applies to practicing skills for 10,000 hours before you become exceptional at your work. It does not apply to sitting in front of daytime television becoming more and more angry about what others have that you do not.
A survey in one coastal town discovered two years ago that 60% of school-age girls surveyed wanted either to be glamour models or footballers’ wives. This paucity of ambition has, surely, to be a result of a culture of neglect on the one hand, and the building of unrealistic expectations on the other?
It’s unlikely that anyone who needs to be told this is online looking for information or guidance. But just in case: immigrants did not come to the UK and ‘steal your jobs’. They came to the UK and took up the slack that you left. And when you could see the wood for the trees, what did you do about it?
If your honest answer is ‘nothing’, then don’t blame immigrants. And even if it’s not, don’t blame immigrants. We’d be slightly buggered without them.