I GREATLY enjoyed Iain Macwhirter's compassionate article on the unemployed ("A bleak statement: We live in a very harsh Britain", The Herald, December 6).

We do indeed live in a harsh society. When I was growing up I was surrounded by people who had lived through the Great Depression, the Second World War and into the austerity of the 1950s. Having a job was a source of pride then. Unemployment was regarded as a great evil but the unemployed were seen as victims, not criminals out to defraud the state. People expected the Government to do something about unemployment, or, if they couldn't, to support, through the National Assistance Fund, its victims.

It was not regarded as a handout. All workers paid into it when they were in employment so that destitution could be avoided should one fall out of work. It wasn't free. Governments didn't just print more money in those days, they used the money the unemployed had contributed, when in work, through National Insurance payments.

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The difference between then and now is that people really did believe they "were all in it together". Most had experienced personal hardship. I was often sent, as a child, to some neighbour's door with a paper twist of tea, another of sugar and some slices of bread. Sometimes I took a shilling because the jobless neighbour had run out of food before the next National Assistance payment was due. It wasn't seen as charity, just a recognition of our common humanity.

I remember reading a piece by Bob Holman in which he suggested that the qualification we most needed in our politicians was not a degree in economics but an imagination. Politicians today are mostly rich or middle-class and seem incapable of imagining how impossible it is to live on £71 a week.

I know someone who has been unemployed for more than two years. He has chased every job but in spite of having an honours degree from Edinburgh University and a 15-year unbroken employment record hasn't even had an interview. He lived on £71 a week and had part of his mortgage interest of £23 a week paid until the Coalition Government withdrew that support. He was then required to pay the full £23 a week from his £71 a week benefit to prevent himself becoming homeless as well as jobless. Any volunteers out there willing to try to live on £48 a week? That is the reality for our unemployed "scroungers".

Apart from holding the Government to account perhaps we need to take a good hard look at ourselves. Christy Moore sings a song about governments which oppress their own people. One line says: "They can only get through to them if first they can get through to you". The tragedy of our times is that we have allowed the Government to do that – to demonise the unemployed – and nodded our heads in agreement. Shame on us.

Mrs Pat Dishon,

62 Inchview Terrace,