I never thought I’d write anything about the Jubilee. To be honest, while I am in no way anti the monarchy and do enjoy a spot of patriotism, I’m not all that bothered about the pomp and ceremony. I suppose you could say I am, and was, somewhat indifferent to the celebrations taking place across the UK in honour of the Queen’s 60th year on the throne.
But following the scandalous news to emerge yesterday surrounding the ‘Jubilee stewards’ who were made up of unpaid jobseekers on the government’s wok programme, I feel that any further indifference on my part would be unfair.
The government’s work programme contracts jobseekers out to various companies and charities, selling itself on the basis that it will provide invaluable skills to those out of work, thus increasing the likelihood of landing a secure job in the future. It is basically a glorified work-experience placement, except for the matter of it being a government-based initiative and the small payment allowed for by a jobseekers allowance.
And so, these stewards were ‘employed’ by security firm, Close Protection UK to sleep under London Bridge overnight, change into security gear in public, endure no access to toilets for 24 hours and work 14-hours straight in the pouring rain before being taken to a swampy campsite outside London, according to the Guardian.
Lord Prescott has since accused the government of ‘exploiting cheap labour’, and thus controversy has ensued. But whilst spokespeople from Downing Street have called it an ‘isolated incident’ and the treatment a ‘one off’, I beg to differ.
Unlike other critics, I do not know enough about the government’s work programme to judge it, and this blog is not intended to question it. But what I believe it does show, is that despite the Jubilee escalating this particular scandal into the public eye, the struggles of the vulnerable are not only not new, but also the struggles of us all.
We may read the stories with disgust, and sympathise emphatically with the exploited jobseekers. But before we sit on our proverbial throne and look down at these loyal subjects who helped provide us with the entertainment enjoyed by millions over the weekend, I think it’s high time that we realised the similarity of our own situation.
“UK business confidence on the wane, study shows”, one article read this week. Cuts are still rife, pension changes aplenty – the jubilations of this week may have served as a distraction, but do not be fooled – this country is still suffering from an economic downfall.
No one is sure exactly how much the Jubilee has cost yet, but we do know that at least £1m of public money, our money, has gone towards it, with further estimations that the extra bank holiday cost Britain’s economy £1.2bn.
We, too, are the stewards, propping the Queen’s celebrations up when we have very little ourselves. We, too, have been exploited, manipulated into thinking that it will be a worthy investment for the future, for our future.
But what investment for the future has it really given us, other than a few days of national pride? Most retail experts believe that, although the Jubilee may have been excellent for general confidence and ‘lifting the national mood’, it was not necessarily translated into money at the tills. Especially as analysts all seem to be in agreement that the economy is still down overall.
“The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is a once in a lifetime celebration … but it is also an opportunity to showcase to the world the very best of London and the UK”, said a spokesperson from the Department of Culture Media and Sport. Just like the ‘one off’ scandalous treatment of the unpaid jobseekers - once again, it simply comes down to showcasing that which we do not have.
Am I anti-monarchist? Of course not. Do I resent the Jubilee celebrations? Heaven forbid. But maybe it’s about time we start facing up to our reality and act within our means, instead of hiding behind the sparkle of some diamonds. After all, the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can change it.