Monday, 28 September 2009

Changing Values

Harry Enfield did a wonderful take off Stafford Cripps wondering about inflation in one of his black and white parodies of early fifties public information films. After the ravages of war most working people were unaware of economics in those days as a subject, needing to focus their interest on their take home pay.
In 1952 Colin Brine was 15 and started work on the Railways at £1.17s.6d for a six day week. Teenagers hadn’t been invented and he had only essentials to spend his money on. He probably gave his Mum most of it for his ‘keep’, saved some and went to the cinema on Saturday evening. Translated to decimal currency that is around £1.87 a week. The nearest equivalent now is a 16 year old, below the age for minimum wage rates and earning £140 per week or £7280 per year.
Curiously though it doesn’t translate. Things have changed. The only way you might find a comparison is to examine wages and spending power. That can only be done with things that are available in both registers. So a pint of beer would have been about 2d, less than 1p. Minimum wage (47 hours a week then) was £5.8.1d (£5.42) a week. Presently it is about to go up to £5.80 per hour for ages over 22.
Roughly then wages are about 50 times what they were in 1952. The price of a pint of beer is not. Later in 1971 when decimal values for the pound were adopted, a gallon of petrol was 33p. At the time an average wage was about £15.00 per week. Trying to make comparison with today’s petrol price of around £5 per gallon and the present day average wage of about £450 per week makes no sense. Petrol was far more expensive then than it is now evidently.
The differences in life style, expectations and living arrangements generally make comparisons very difficult and hugely subjective. From the book that cited Colin Brine I read that the crossing keepers in Somerset who lived in the railway houses had two large cans of water delivered by one of the passing freight trains each day. They were not on mains water in the late 50s and early 60s. Until the late 1950s television was very limited and not common. My own in- laws were given a television in 1955 which sat in the corner for a year because they had no mains electricity. Refrigerators (‘Fridges’ in modern parlance) were only common from the 60s onwards. The history of every day private life is only recently coming of age as a study. We probably have the war to thank for that. The idea of enforced rationing and the notion of evacuating your children away to the countryside to spend 4 or 5 years away from you is fascinating for the television writers.
The Land Girls were largely unsung and just family tales from Grandma’s repertoire until it was noticed they were disappearing fast. Now they have a certificate signed by Gordon Brown and a badge to wear. So the television is only reflecting a general resurgence in interest. All the retro programmes and interest in past re-enactments is an attempt to put it all in focus and give perspective. Was it all better then? Some of it was, most of it was not. The things that were better seem to be attitudes and work ethics. What is known as the Fabric of Society.
Why is it that once unassailable aspects of British society that earned world wide respect evidenced by emulation across the world no longer stand scrutiny and are subjected to howls of criticism from our own press and media? Recent attacks and criticism have been aimed at a dysfunctional education system, a ruined Royal Mail, an NHS that does a poor job in many cases, a police force that no longer can be trusted, bus companies that are not there to provide a service any more, railway companies that just can’t cope, banks and financial worlds that fall over, MPs that can't organise their expenses honourably, a farming industry dying and other national institutions that are on their knees, either through inefficiency and an inability to adapt to modern needs or as victims of political dogmas that have not seen the advantage of a commercial strength. The Newspapers themselves are dying on their feet and struggling to adapt old methods of income to new channels of news delivery.
It’s not just globalisation (for which we are in large part responsible) or the fault of one political party or another. Nor is it the dying flickers of a once unbelievably powerful empire that is now allowed criticism and vitriol from those with a particular angle of view to support. I don’t feel it is the old ‘uns complaining things aren’t what they used to be, much to the frustration and exasperation of the young. It might be a mixture of all these aspects and probably more besides.
The same changes in values allow the discrimination laws, health and safety, and any other sort of ‘Rights’ generally to be abused and mocked for the very clip board mentalities they promote, bringing even the standards that we thought were taken as read, into disrepute.
Any sort of fractionalised approach, in industry, education, transport, health, defence, has a short term gain and a long term loss of way. The answer is not to re – nationalise everything. I do think it is to encourage a positive view of what is good and not to drag everything down. The thought is not new. In the seventies we had an ‘I’m Backing Britain’ campaign for just the same reasons. It was good for morale if nothing else, and was not condemned out of hand.
Some positive views are needed, and the rest will slowly follow.
See Bob Shepherd Associates for a positive yet practical view of your business tempered with a realistic perspective.

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