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Work: those were the days in Britain

A new study compares the world of work in Britain at the start of Queen Elizabeth II's reign 60 years ago and today.
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Unemployment is at a 17 year high, almost 1 in 5 households have no one working, the world of work in Britain today is very different from when Queen Elizabeth II took the throne. (Matt Cardy/AFP/Getty Images)

As Britain prepares to mark Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in June there will be many comparative studies to mark the changes to the country over the last 60 years but none is likely to match the power of the survey published today by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. The CIPD is an international association for HR professionals and compiles statistics for its members.

In stark and unsentimental numbers it looks at British work life early in the Queen's reign and today.

The total number of Britons in work has risen from 23 million in 1959 to 29 million today. Sounds good. But breaking the numbers down further things aren't quite so rosy.

In 1959, 96 percent of working age men were employed. Only 4 percent worked part-time. Today, 75 percent of working age men are employed, 26 percent of them part-time.

46 percent of working age women had jobs in 1959. Today that figure is 66 percent.

All told, people work less in a week: 42 hours in 1952, 32 hours today.

Perhaps, the most telling change in the world of work is how many families don't have anyone employed. In 1968, 4 percent of households were workless. Today that figure is 18.8 percent. I'm sure part of that increase has to do with people living independently for much longer after retirement, but almost 1 in 5 households having no one earning is a pretty frightening concept.

The struggle to find work is encapsulated in these numbers with a painful symmetry: in 1952 there were 3 vacancies for every person without a job. Today it is reversed, there are 3 unemployed workers for every vacancy.

Self-employment and small businesses have grown by leaps and bounds. There were just 160,000 businesses in total in the 1950's. Now there are 4.5 million. But only a quarter of today's businesses actually employ people. The bulk of Britain's work force still works in the 6,000 large enterprises with more than 250 employees.

What people do for a living has obviously changed. The Queen ascended to the throne of an industrial powerhouse: 40 percent of all jobs were in manufacturing in 1952. Today, that is down to 8 percent. Professional/managerial/technical workers are now 44 percent of the work force - there were no figures for 1952, which should tell you how few people worked in those jobs.

Without a hint of irony, CIPD notes that around 20,000 people worked in HR in the 1950's. Today the figure is around 400,000.

Interestingly, for all the recent attempts to shrink the public sector there has been no change in the number of people working for the state between then and now: 6 million then, 6 million now.

The CIPD report also outlines the impressive rise in British living standards over these decades - as well as the rise of inequality in the same period.

You can read more - and download the report - here.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/europe/work-those-were-the-days-britain

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