Derek Taylor

One prejudice is as bad as another

Oxford University
Oxford University

The core of the Shema is that parents should be responsible for seeing that their children are well educated. It’s a fundamental with us and we’re known as the People of the Book. It is standard practice for our parents to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to see that the children get a good start in life.

Now the government has got involved. They have tackled the problem that children from poor families have not been getting the jobs for which they applied. These have been going too often to white, privately educated, university graduates. Getting jobs for youngsters who didn’t have these advantages was the hole in the market for anybody setting up as an employment agency. An employment agency gets its commission from a poor candidate being chosen as much as a middle class one.

What is now one of the largest employment agencies in the country started off in one room in a hotel where I worked 60 years ago. They grew because there wasn’t much competition. Now there is.

So Human Resources managers are now being told to give preference to candidates from poor backgrounds. If you went to a public school and on to Oxbridge, you could well be turned down simply on those grounds.

Now, of course, any Business Studies professor. would tell you that this is a nonsense. They will point out the obvious; most companies are as good as their staff. It’s the most valuable asset you don’t find in the annual balance sheet, but good staff is a sine qua non for a good company; if your staff isn’t up to it, you’re eventually going to finish up dead in the water.

A sensible company recruits on ability and on nothing else. That ability is to be found in women, members of ethnic minorities, transgenders, immigrants and the physically disadvantaged. It’s also to be found in candidates from every grade of education.

The government is quite right to take this very seriously. In the old days it held you back if you were a member of a religious minority or if you had the wrong accent. It was a society where class mattered, where racism was acceptable and being “common” was considered offensive. We have moved on a great deal over the years but you can go too far. To penalise youngsters from public schools or the better universities is just another form of prejudice and it appears to be becoming fashionable to look out for backgrounds rather than ability.

Of course, old habits die hard. There are still pockets of prejudice and there will be rogue Human Resource managers. It’s no use, however, moving from one prejudice to another. The country will flourish when it is full of well-run companies, whose policies are designed to give the maximum dividends to the shareholders. That’s what the old lady investors believe the Directors in whom they trust, are endeavouring to achieve. It’s called capitalism and it’s  the form of society we have chosen.

No, that still leaves the government to insist on minimum wages, proper pension funds and support for the underprivileged. Have they sorted out the problems in Leicester incidentally? The concept of the welfare state has proved its worth. The government and the local councils are right to step in when people are being victimised.

Michael Gove is responsible for levelling up. He will be identifying a whole string of people and organisations who benefit from it not being a sufficiently level playing field; efficiently diverse. More strength to his arm.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book