The poverty of opportunity that has come with de-industrialisation

The following is taken from Section C 5.12 of ‘Learning Matters‘.

I recently rediscovered the Apprenticeship Indenture of my father, dated 13 January 1936 on his leaving school.

It reads: ‘John Ackworthie Ltd (of Birmingham) agree to instruct him in the art of Toolfitting, which he now useth in the manufacture of Engineer’s Tools and will also pay the following scale of wages (weekly): 1st year 10/- (50p) 2nd ; 12/6 3rd ; 15/- 4th ; 20/- 5th ; 25/- 6th ; 30/- 7th ; 35/- (£1.75) An ordinary working week to count of 47 hours. Overtime to be paid at double the ordinary rate.’

From that date my father was in continuous well paid employment in Engineering work in Birmingham until after Thatcher was elected in 1979.

1936 was the height of the Great Depression, yet my dad left school with no exam passes and gained an apprenticeship that provided guaranteed employment and training for seven years, a very large guaranteed annual percentage pay rise every year over the whole of that period and a contractual 47 hour week (no unsocial hours) with double hourly pay for overtime. I don’t know what his pay rates are equivalent to now, but my guess is that they are far better than the minimum wage for 16 year old school leavers and he was younger than that. Present day school leavers eat your heart out.

I was born in 1947 and brought up on a low rent Birmingham council estate. There was never, ever any sense that we lived in ‘social housing’. We had a TV, a fridge, a twin tub washing machine and a vacuum cleaner, but no car and one week per year family holiday by the seaside in a Boarding House to which we travelled by train. It was a happy childhood. We were never cold or hungry or badly clothed. My mother only worked after I started secondary school in 1958. My father’s working week was about 45 hours, but overtime was always paid. He was a lifelong member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union.

Of course we should be angry about the direction of travel under Conservative (and Lib Dem supported) governments.

But what about Labour? Can we accept such limited ambition that does not even amount to a promise of better job prospects for school leavers than in 1936, and a higher quality of life for ‘hard working families’ than in the 1950s?

This was first published as my comment to an article on Local Schools Network, where Henry Stewart added the following.

“Intriguing information, Roger. Average salary in 1936 appears to have been £150 a year, compared to £25,000 now. Minimum apprenticeship rates are £5,000 (20% of the average), so your dad’s rate quickly rose above that and was 50% of the average salary by the end of the period.”

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