THE WORLD is, in many ways, a very different one from that Badger was born into and spent his formative years.


And, over the last fifteen-or-so years, the pace of change has accelerated.
It’s a sobering thought that more years have passed since the Falklands War than elapsed between that conflict and the end of the Second World War.


Could you pause there for a moment, readers?
Consider this kicker.


In 1947, the Labour Government under Clement Attlee nationalised all the collieries in the UK.
Between 1947 and 1994, 950 mines closed.


However, even before the Second World War, coal mining was an industry in decline.
Between the General Strike of 1926 and the outbreak of the War, the number of people employed in coal mines fell by a third, and 400,000 jobs went as mines closed.

In the 47 years between nationalisation and 1994, the number of those employed in mines fell from 720,000 to 4,000.


In Wales, with its small population, 270,000 jobs went between 1947 and 1994. Twenty-five thousand went in the decade following the Miners’ Strike in 1984. The number of people employed in Welsh coal mines is now measured in the hundreds.


The jobs lost have never been replaced.
Despite initiatives aimed at stimulating job growth, barely half of the coal mining jobs lost in the last 30 years in South Wales have been replaced.


Moreover, changes to the benefits system in the lead-up to 2016’s Brexit referendum removed almost £430 million a year from the economy of the South Valleys alone (an average of £670 a year for every adult of working age).


Those figures represent four times the annual EU budget for regional development allocated to the whole of Wales.


Not only are those changes now embedded in the welfare system, but also more money has been extracted from it since 2016.


We can zoom out a bit from those figures to consider them in the UK job market’s context.
A lot of recent news about the numbers in employment has been unrelentingly positive.
The number of job vacancies (around 1.4m) now exceeds the number of those receiving unemployment benefits (around 1.36m).


When demand outstrips supply, wages should rise. They haven’t.


Wages are flat-lining, meaning the vast majority of the UK workforce is worse off than they were twelve months ago. Bankers in the City of London are the only ones bucking the trend.
According to the UK Government’s boosterism, unemployment is not a problem because more are employed. They tell the dim and gullible that those out of work are shirking the plentiful and unfilled jobs.


It’s bollocks.


There is a labour shortage. There is particularly a shortage of skilled labour and workers needed for specialist roles.

Governments’ responses to the shortage of vets, nurses, doctors, dentists, and qualified tradespeople, have been to lower the bar for their qualification and deployment. The shortage can only be addressed by lowering professional standards and rewriting regulations designed to protect the public.


Ask any local building firm: qualified tradespeople are like gold dust.
In the NHS, the care system must undergo redesign because there are not enough doctors and nurses to go around. That means nurses fill GPs’ roles, and healthcare assistants or trainee nurses fill nurses’ roles.


Hywel Dda UHB proposes an increase in community-based care. That policy is not driven by a charitable impulse to deliver primary services closer to where people live.


On the contrary, it is the child of chronic staff shortage, and a 75-year-old model of care no longer fit for purpose.


You cannot force doctors and nurses to work where and when they don’t want to; as observed elsewhere, working for the National Health Service is not National Service.


Brexit has not caused the current shortage of qualified British workers able to fulfil skilled roles; it has, however, accelerated the problem by removing from the market those who papered over the yawning cracks in the UK’s skills shortages.


Covid-19 made it worse; European-born workers in the UK returned to their home countries and have – for the most part – not come back.


And, speaking of the job market, the UK’s employment figures need closer examination.
Doing so shows a far more worrying picture.


5.3m people of working age in the UK are economically inactive; neither in work nor seeking work. That’s 22% of the potential working population, many of whom either care for chronically ill relatives or are themselves ill and unable to work.
5.3m sounds a lot because it is.


However, the number of economically inactive potential workers in the UK has been around the 4m mark for over a decade. Moreover, the number of those claiming incapacity benefits fell by over one-third over the same period.


Returning to Wales, the areas once most dependent on manufacturing and mining are centres of economic inactivity.


People there are also unhealthier, less likely to reach their educational potential, and live shorter lives.


Deprivation breeds despair: hopelessness (the loss of hope) is the companion and driver of chronic ill health; ill health (depending on its degree or nature) either reduces economic activity or renders one wholly economically inactive.


While not a hereditary condition in the medical sense, economic inactivity is a generational one for thousands of Welsh families. It’s embedded over decades of economic decline and fall.


The Welsh Government’s response to it and Westminster’s failure to regenerate or reform Wales’s industrial base was the financial version of one of Baldrick’s cunning plans in Blackadder.


It threw money to jump-start the Welsh economy without ever having a coherent post-industrial strategy to benefit the whole of Wales.


The total number of people employed in manufacturing industries in Wales is 150,000. That sounds impressive until you factor in the following numbers.


In 1976, 2083 firms employed 307,000 employees, a bare average of 147 employees each.
In 1994, that headline figure was 220,000, divided between around 7,000 manufacturing units, a bare average of 30 employees each.


In 2021, Wales’s manufacturing sector comprised 5,000 firms, employing a bare average of 30 employees each.


That is the definition of failure.
Hundreds of millions of pounds of EU and public money have been chucked at it, and the best you can say is that the manufacturing sector has shrunk.


None of the initiatives, taskforces, joint ventures, and development boards worked.
One day Vaughan Gething will realise that saying you have a plan is no substitute for having (a practical) one.