The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

unemployment eighties

Unemployment was so endemic in certain parts of the UK in the eighties that an under the radar dole culture emerged. The jobless created their own magazines and even board games. This one was a skit on Monopoly – called Monotony. It summed up the tedium and despair.

The Community Chest was empty. Instead of “Chance” you got Fat Chance. A theme on the board was ending up homeless and being moved from one square to the next. A reflection of the sad reality outside.

Unlike our post-Covid world where mass unemployment is a sudden horror for millions – joblessness in the late 1970s and 1980s had crept up steadily for years. So, many families all over the UK had one or more people on the dole – and sometimes the entire family had no work.

Unemployment in the eighties hit miners and dockers. Today it’s hitting retail workers, hotel staff and the airline industry. But also, it’s affecting those who were supposed to be part of the ‘knowledge economy’ – people who call themselves ‘strategists’ and ‘creatives’.

Here’s hoping they don’t experience the grim life of unemployment that many did in the eighties – where if you over 35 and laid off, that was it. Many people I met in Liverpool and Manchester back in those days though they were finished. They simply resigned themselves to a life of poverty and no future.

Graduates couldn’t even find summer jobs in the early eighties as the unemployed competed for shop and bar work. That made it harder for students to pay their way through college.

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